Understanding Privilege: The Next D&I Challenge

Companies battling it out in competitive markets thrive by engaging with and hiring individuals from all backgrounds. By facilitating greater insights that allow a company to develop stronger connections with their talent and target market, diversity and inclusion in the workplace lay the foundation for greater gains.

Yet, diversity in organizations is changing. Not long ago the diversity dimensions all any of us focused on were race and gender. These are still important, but the idea of diversity is expanding – and an idea that hasn’t kept up with this expansion is for the organization and its employees to come together and create success for each other. Individual accountability for being inclusive and understanding your privilege will be the key to driving change.

Organizations thrive the most when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When teams are working well together. Considering that, it’s safe to say that nurturing a team-building environment requires us to perform a little introspection and acknowledge our privilege. Then, we must figure out how we deal with others who don’t share that same privilege.

Diversity and Inclusion is Not About Winning – It’s About Solving Problems

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace is becoming very personal. Privilege is simply when we experience actual or perceived advantages because of some trait we have. Sometimes when we’re not in a position of privilege, we tend to each see that as a critical diversity issue. When we are in a position of privilege, we can feel frustrated that we’re being asked to understand that about ourselves and its place in our relationships to others. Sometimes people feel victimized in their privilege. Suddenly diversity is a contest, where everybody’s issue is bigger than the next person’s. What can get lost is that the main goal of diversity initiatives should be focusing on benefiting the company.

D&I objectives commonly begin by examining employee issues. Naturally, we are going to focus on what affects our day to day lives. At the end of the day, the goal is to produce better business outcomes, driving better business and not just focus on personal issues. Yet for that to happen, inclusive companies have to be unafraid of asking for some personal introspection. Each of us has privilege. As Doug Harris, CEO of The Kaleidoscope says, “As an African-American I can just focus on race. Or as a man I can help women.” Wealth, status, education, position – all of these can put us in positions of privilege at work.

Currently, society and our business environment is placing a lot of focus on those feeling disenfranchised. We are nurturing a losing mindset and competing for a race to who has the bigger problem. This is a losing proposition, and it removes focus on the real diversity issues companies are facing. Diversity and inclusion efforts seek to identify the current struggles and then implement policies to remedy the situation. D&I training can help. The right policies and practices are essential. But high performance, inclusive companies of tomorrow will consist of inclusive people who aren’t afraid to ask how can I help somebody else and take action to do it. People will recognize their own privilege to help those who don’t share that privilege.

People With Privilege Have Power

Show up to create gains for the organization and expectations for everybody within it. Achieving this requires pivoting from the current mindset and transitioning to emphasis on the individual. Thus, honing in on principles like individual accountability, taking ownership to drive the changes they would like to see take place, and taking these actions with the businesses’ success as their priority.

In the midst of important company-wide diversity efforts, we must teach ourselves and employees the skills to look inward for answers. They should be asking themselves, am I doing what I can to improve the situation for somebody else? This requires a lot of honesty and humility and frankly, not every employee will have the answers – but it changes the mindset from victim to one of being a mentor, sponsor, or advocate. An inclusive organization can only be as strong as its inclusive people.