Privilege: A crib sheet

“Wow, people get offended by everything nowadays!” Sound familiar?

The topic of privilege has always been an important one for HR professionals and managers. But in recent times, thanks to prominent campaigns such as the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, more and more people are checking their own privilege and publicly calling out those who lord it over others.

Increased debate around privilege – what is and who has it – on social media is almost certainly going to be spilling out into your workplace, and so it should be. A knowledge of privilege is essential for overcoming barriers to diversity and inclusion. However, it also means that more statements, such as the one above, are likely to be heard around the office.

This is because privilege is a challenging concept for some – if not many. It’s invisible to those who possess it, but ever-present for those who don’t, and it’s possible that many people within your organisation – even yourself – have benefited from privilege without ever really knowing. Another barrier is that discussing privilege can be uncomfortable and it can be hard to admit to having.

In the workplace, privilege means not worrying about or being held back by certain day-to-day things, such as bathroom access, annual leave for religious holidays, child care or pay equality. Every person on your team has gifts to bring to the table and a unique perspective to offer, so by giving a voice to those less privileged you’re giving everyone the opportunity to succeed and not oppressing your most valuable asset – your people.

Here’s a recap of different types of privilege to help you evaluate those present in your organisation:

White privilege

This privilege benefits white people at the expense of people of colour. Those lacking in white privilege may find themselves treated differently, typecast or not seeing themselves catered for by the society they live in. For example, they may turn on the TV to find no-one looks like them or they can’t find plasters or make-up to suit their skin colour.

Religious privilege

Those who have religious privilege shouldn’t have a problem finding a place of worship near them and their religious celebrations will be embedded within the society they live. One big example being Christmas! Not automatically having a day off from work for your religious holidays indicates a lack of this privilege.

Gender privilege

This usually refers to male privilege. In some cases, men are far more catered for in their career progression and pay than women, and are treated with more respect just because of their gender.

Heterosexual privilege

Possessing this privilege means never having to worry about things like ‘coming out’ to your family, friends or colleagues, censoring public displays of affection with your partner or your safety simply because of your sexual orientation. Those lacking in ‘straight’ privilege, like those missing out on white privilege, are likely to be under-represented in popular culture and even simple things like Valentine’s Day cards.

Ability privilege

This related to those with physical or mental disabilities often being overlooked for opportunities, even though they would be more than capable – and even more experienced – to take them on. For example, actors with disabilities frequently find themselves passed up for roles, even for characters with disabilities which are often awarded to able-bodied actors.

Socio-economic privilege

This privilege doesn’t necessarily mean being rich but means having enough resources to able to take the opportunities that come your way, for example, unpaid internships or additional professional development. These little privileges can give a person a significant head start in their career.

Class privilege

Class privilege involves how your societal and geographical heritage (assumed by your accent) influences the opportunities available to you – that is, your access to education, health care, housing and social mobility.

Educational privilege

Connected to socio-economic and class privilege, it’s known that access to higher education opens a number of doors to higher-paying jobs, but educational privilege can also bestow an unearned creditability on an individual.

If you want to find out more about privilege, Tell Jane offers a range of training programmes that can be tailored to your organisation and D&I strategy. Simply contact me by emailing lisa@telljane.co.uk to discover how we can help.

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