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.