One day, my boss told me he got promoted. He talked excitedly, and I listened enthusiastically. Eager to share my ideas, I asked him to lunch.
He nodded, but then paused.
“Actually, it won’t look good,” he said, and left with two male co-workers. I was locked out of the conversation, while others were invited in.
To support diversity and inclusion, understand privilege. Privilege is the advantages enjoyed by a group, beyond what’s available to others. It is institutional, not individual, and largely invisible to those who have it.
So what does privilege look like?
You’re college educated. You haven’t been labeled a “diversity hire.” You don’t worry about sexual harassment. If you lose your job, you know there will be another. You’re not financially supporting a family. You have a partner who takes care of your children. You can talk about your religion. You don’t have people touching your hair. You feel comfortable speaking up in meetings. You see yourself in leadership.
I began thinking about my own privilege. I have a house. I have a job. I have child care. I am also cisgendered (my sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with my birth sex) and able-bodied. And as I reflect on both my acquired and birth privileges, I think that if I, a woman of color and a mother, can admit my privilege, so can others.
Privilege after all, isn’t a switch; it’s a spectrum.
According to Equity Matters, a Seattle-based consulting firm, we are all situated differently in opportunity structures: age, citizenship, education, gender, language, ability, race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic class. Creating a personal identity map for myself, as Equity Matters suggests, helped me realize that not all underrepresented groups have the same experiences.
The writer bell hooks said, “Privilege is not in and of itself bad; what matters is what we do with privilege.” Here are three steps you can take:
Think about it. Part of the work is committing to self-education. It also means listening to and learning about other people’s challenges.
Talk about it. Let’s get comfortable being uncomfortable. Challenge others, ask questions, support movements, invite perspectives and exchange data.
Act on it. Amplify voices, decenter yourselves and support underrepresented groups to speak, write and teach. If you’re invited to give a talk, suggest someone else in your place or be like Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who declined to speak on all-male panels.
Because only when we understand our own privilege can we understand others’ lack of privilege — and support diversity and inclusion.