How to Account for Privilege in the Workplace

by | Sep 15, 2020 | Leadership

“The more privilege you have, the more opportunity you have. 
The more opportunity you have, the more responsibility you have.” 
– Noam Chomsky

We all benefit from at least one form of privilege. When you consider religion, race, sex, education, socio-economic status, and physical ability, there’s no shortage of privilege to go around. Although, in recent times, we’ve heard about the many ways that privilege can affect equality in civil rights matters, less frequently do we discuss the ways that privilege can affect leaders and employees in the workplace. Naturally, privilege can be a blind spot; it’s hard to fix when it’s hard to acknowledge. But with increased awareness and an open mind, you can begin to account for privilege in the workplace. Here’s how:  

1. Study

The first and most important step of accounting for your privilege is identifying your own.

In addition to reading helpful books and watching informative videos, seeking privilege-based assessments, checklists and quizzes can provide an eye-opening look into real-world illustrations of workplace advantages. Here are a few examples of possible assessment questions:

Review the following statements:

  • Religion: “I get scheduled days off for holidays of my religion.”
  • Race: “I can easily find people that represent my race/culture in my department.”
  • Sex: “I’ve never had to worry about my attire affecting others’ opinions of me.” 
  • Education: “I was able to afford my college education without needing a loan.”
  • Socio-economic status: “If I apply for a prominent position with competitors of a lower class, my socio-economic status will be to my advantage.”
  • Physical ability: “I don’t have a health condition that impacts my ability to maneuver through my workspace, or perform my job, with ease.” 
  • If you identify with any of these statements, you benefit from privilege in that area.

2. Ask For Feedback

If you are in a leadership position, you have the power to initiate change. However, it’s sometimes hard to know where to start. Bringing awareness to various forms of privilege is one thing. But making it accessible to those without it is a bit more complex.. While thorough research can provide a useful starting point, receiving personalized feedback can help you tailor a custom approach to diversifying the workplace. Consider surveying your employees anonymously to pinpoint areas of strength and specific opportunities for growth. Remember that it’s better to ask for guidance from those most affected, than to assume you have all the answers yourself.

3. Adopt Inclusive Practices and Trainings

Once you’ve studied about privilege and gotten feedback from your teams, the last step is to adopt inclusive practices. Make it your mission to ensure that everyone in your place of business is educated on inclusion and equipped with a permanent safe space to speak up. Provide diversity training to those in leadership roles and create policies that support the underrepresented. Proudly publicize your goals and outlined plans that aim to achieve workplace equality. Most importantly, commit yourself to the ongoing work that is required in order to provide actionable change. 

The privileges you’ve been granted are outside of your control. You need not apologize for them or feel guilty about the doors they’ve opened in your career. Still, we all have a responsibility to acknowledge the plight of the people around us and do what we can to tip the balance. Use these three tips to account for privilege in your workplace and guarantee a more comfortable environment for all.