playing cards - four kings - and poker tokens
Thoughts

Is your privilege losing you money?

What a curious question!

Privilege gains you money, surely? After all, we’ve just this week seen Harry and Meghan land that lucrative deal with Netflix based on a combination of privilege and celebrity.

Money certainly follows privilege in the most obvious of ways, yet being oblivious to how privilege operates also results in loss. Anyone that knows me / follows my work knows that I am all about social justice. But I want to reflect here on the oft-cited ‘business case’ for diversity and inclusion – the bottom line that shows us that having more diversity (in a leadership team, for example) fosters better financial performance. For example, a large Danish research study in 2016 found companies with the most diverse management had a 12.6% more profit margin than companies with the least diverse management.

What is privilege?

Privilege is a shorthand term to name the social advantages that some people are born with in a particular culture. Evidence in the form of statistics and what we see in front of our own eyes or experience demonstrates that people from, for example, different races or ethnic backgrounds, class, gender, disability or ability are treated unequally. I’ve quoted Peggy McIntosh in the information about my upcoming workshop on privilege, so won’t repeat her here but she encapsulates very well how those with privilege are not meant to be aware of it. This is how inequalities are perpetuated.

Privilege in our working lives

Whether you work within an organisation, run your own business or are self-employed, privilege may be impacting upon your bottom line.

If you’re within an organisation, are any of these comments familiar?

  • We have a problem with retention / turnover
  • Our staff surveys show low satisfaction
  • We don’t have a diverse workforce, especially at senior levels
  • We’d like more customers

Some of these may not seem like pressing problems right now, as we are adjusting to huge workplace changes as a result of the impact of Covid-19. Yet, the disproportionate impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, not only in terns of health but in terms of impact on work has put us into an ‘inequality squared’ situation. Groups that were already at a disadvantage socially are being impacted most.

This makes it all the more important that organisations – and individuals within them – do everything possible to ensure they are on the ball and aware of how their systems, culture and practices impact on their staff and clients / customers.

If you have a deeper understanding of how inequality and privilege operate, you can take steps to counter it. In an organisation, this potentially leads to happier staff who stay around and are more productive.

In terms of the bottom line, what would your savings be from not advertising for new roles and interviewing frequently, of inducting new staff? If staff feel genuinely included and valued they are much more likely to stay and be loyal. It’s a win-win!

Not addressing privilege has an ethical and business cost.

If you run a small business or are self-employed, perhaps this resonates:

  • I’m not attracting enough clients / customers

It is really challenging time for small businesses and the self-employed right now. Considering how you ‘speak to’ your prospective clients or customers, through, for example, imagery and wording on your website, the ‘signalling’ you give as to your approach, all impact on whether or not a prospective client may feel welcome as your customer. On my own website and blogs, for example, I try to use diverse imagery (sometimes you really have to search for images!) as a signal that I welcome diverse clients. I’m by no means perfect but I know that this small gesture is recognised by those that it addresses.

If we are in a position of privilege, it can leave us unaware of what it may feel like not to be included or addressed in the use of imagery or language. While it may be appear a small thing, cumulatively, if you never see someone ‘like you’ represented or addressed this adds up. Furthermore, because LGBT people, black and Asian people, people with disabilities, for example, frequently encounter prejudice and discrimination, either personally or as a group of people, taking away the ‘edge’ of wondering whether or not we are welcome is a really positive step and broadens your client / customer base.

If you want to understand more about privilege….

Do come along and join my next online workshop on 22nd September 2020, where we’ll be talking about practical steps you can take to counter the effects of privilege in your work.

Events

Understanding Privilege

What would it feel like to build your self-awareness and gain greater confidence when working with diverse clients, colleagues or customers?

What difference would it make to the service you provide?

Peggy McIntosh is an American academic and activist whose reflections on white privilege are the starting point for this workshop. McIntosh uses the metaphor of an invisible knapsack to reflect on her position as a white woman in the USA:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks”

Peggy McIntosh, 1989

Privileges we are born with we have no influence over. What we can influence is what we do with those privileges.

This online workshop offers a safe space to explore privilege in various forms: race, sexual orientation, gender, disability for example. It will enable you to:

  • Know what privilege is and its impacts
  • Be equipped with language for talking about privilege
  • Be equipped with tools for countering the impacts of privilege in your work environment
  • Become aware of your own level of privilege and how to harness it
  • Get more comfortable with being uncomfortable (conversations around privilege and inequality are difficult – that’s ok)!

The workshop takes place via Zoom, is interactive, and numbers are limited in order to facilitate discussion. You will participate in breakout rooms, giving you the opportunity to meet and discuss with others and will engage in tasks to get you thinking and doing!

The workshop will be of interest to Human Resources professionals, people leaders and coaches, working independently or within organisations (or, frankly, anyone working with human beings!).

Thoughts

Has your organisation ever celebrated Lesbian Visibility Day? Or why April 26th really should be in your diversity calendar

Lesbian Visibility Day: what is it?

I became aware of Lesbian Visibility Day in 2019. Internet searches tell us this international awareness day originated in 2008. However, there is no reliable source with detailed information on its origin. 

It is somewhat ironic that I, as a lesbian who has researched lesbian visibility on screen had never heard of it and found out by chance on social media. None of my lesbian friends had heard of it either. We are not alone, as this article on After Ellen, ‘the leading site for lesbians worldwide’, attests.  

This invisible Lesbian Visibility Day raises interesting questions: why have we never seen our workplaces or wider culture mark this day? Is it important? Lesbian invisibility has a long history. For example, while sexual activity between men was outlawed in the U.K., sex between women was never illegal – it was simply never mentioned.  

In an era of what feels like an ever-increasing number and variety of awareness days, Lesbian Visibility Day seems similarly to have slipped through the net – until now. In 2020, U.K.-based DIVA, ‘Europe’s leading magazine for lesbian and bi women’, is making a week of it, with a planned launch in Parliament (revised, now, due to the Covid-19 Global pandemic). 

Why your organisation should be celebrating it: inclusion and wellbeing

McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace Report 2019 illuminates some of the ways in which lesbians experience the workplace differently – and more negatively – to women in general.  In their survey of over 68,500 U.S. employees, 23% of lesbians reported feeling that they could not talk about themselves or their life outside of work, compared to 10% of women overall (26% bisexual women expressed this). 24% of lesbians reported hearing demeaning remarks about them or people like them, compared to 16% of women overall. Most concerning is the fact that 53% of lesbians reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, compared to 41% of women overall (62% of bisexual women expressed this). 

 From the McKinsey report, we can see that almost a quarter of lesbians do not feel they can bring their ‘whole selves’ to work and that the workplace does not offer ‘psychological safety’, or indeed physical safety given the proportions of incidents of harassment. Psychological safety is something that Mike Robbins and others have identified as essential for effective team working and performance. It is important for an individual’s wellbeing for them to feel included and welcomed.  

To be clear, bringing your whole self to work in terms of sexual orientation is not about sharing your sex life with colleagues! It is about openly being who you are. For example, if in a casual conversation a heterosexual colleague shares where they visited at the weekend with their wife/husband/partner, there is likely no moment of hesitation as to whether or not to reveal the sex of that partner. For a lesbian colleague (or anyone in a same-sex relationship), they have to make an assessment as to whether or not it feels safe to reveal that partner’s sex. Will they be judged or treated differently as a result? They might not be judged but the anticipation of that possibility (borne out by understanding or experiences of homophobia and misogyny combined) can lead to avoiding the potential risk. Silence is an insurance policy.  

If you’re thinking, OK, but we already have LGBT History Month and celebrate Pride season in our organisation. We also mark International Women’s Day. Aren’t lesbians covered?! Well, as the McKinsey report demonstrates, lesbians often have a different experience from other women in the workplace, so recognising that and supporting lesbians specifically to feel not only comfortable but welcome as they are is important. Furthermore, while some lesbians feel a welcome part of the LGBTQ+ ‘umbrella’, some do not. A 2018 survey by HER, a social networking and dating app for LGBT+ women, found that 31% of their respondents did not feel comfortable or welcome at Pride. This suggests that not all will feel included when those corporate colours go rainbow in June.  

What might your organisation do?

As with many other awareness-raising days, Lesbian Visibility Day has multiple purposes: 

  • to celebrate lesbian role models (within or beyond the organisation), supporting lesbians within the organisation to feel safe, included and welcome 
  • to raise awareness, educate and inform allies regarding varied experiences of lesbians, fostering understanding and cultivating a more welcome environment
  • to recognise diversity amongst lesbians (as with all groups, we are not homogenous!)

You might: invite an external speaker; host a workshop or training for allies; put up diverse imagery in your office space and on your website; feature stories on the website; consult with your staff to evaluate your workplace culture. 

You also need to walk the talk by, for example, reviewing your policies and documents for inclusive language; monitoring incidents and creating a culture where it feels safe to report and raise issues; consider mentoring/coaching for specific groups; examine cultural norms; diversify representation in decision-making. 

Aside from it being the right thing to do in terms of wellbeing and social justice, recent research has found that employees are 13% more productive when they are happy. So, can you afford to do nothing? 

 

This blog was first published on Thrive Global