Why it feels like DEI has winners and losers, and what to do about it.
When individuals come from an identity that has privilege or holds a position of power, conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion can raise concerns about a loss of that privilege or power.
Addressing privilege is very uncomfortable for many people. Yet everyone has privilege.
At Teamer Strategy Group, we define privilege as a right or exemption from liability or duty granted as a special benefit or advantage. Specifically, privilege is a form of unearned power in a society that is derived from sex, race, gender, ability, and/or socioeconomic standing.
Privilege is invisible.
Oppression is the result of the use of institutional privilege and power, wherein one person or group benefits at the expense of another.
We often don’t see where we have privilege, so understanding that it exists and that we all have it in some areas is the first step to addressing it.
In the workplace, privilege means not worrying about day-to-day things. Those of us who are privileged don’t have to think about things like bathroom access, specific holiday time off, rooms to use for nursing, or pay equity.
The “DEI has winners and losers” fallacy.
However, many people do not want to talk about areas where they are benefitting from privilege daily. Instead, when confronted by this unearned power, a privileged person might reply with, "But I am just a regular, good person," or “I have worked hard to earn what I have.”
Underpinning these statements is the fear that, if we acknowledge where we have privilege, it will necessitate a loss of some benefit.
Once we have identified that privilege is an issue, self-reflection is the next step. Refer back to "What is there to fear about DEI? And why we're so afraid." for some questions to guide this reflection process. It is important to understand the fears we have about acknowledging inequities caused by privilege so that we can move forward to step three, which is developing intentional strategies around policies, procedures and practices that ensure all individuals have equal access to opportunities and resources.
1+1 is not Zero-Sum.
Privilege comes with power, and individuals often have concerns that if privilege in any specific arena is acknowledged and addressed, that means they will lose their power in that situation. The concern is that greater influence from others requires less influence from us. We all want to have our voices heard and our opinions respected.
When we talk about dismantling privilege, it does not mean that anyone should lose their status or be replaced by a more “diverse” individual. Instead, strategies may include things such as assessing which individuals are being advantaged or disadvantaged as well as who is in power, whether that is representative of relevant groups as a whole, and disaggregating the data to discover if any patterns misalign with stated values.
We all have privilege.
Understanding that we all have privileges, consider the following questions:
· What are some of the identities you hold? How do you identify yourself when someone asks who you are?
· How do you think others see you?
· What are some privileges that go along with those identities?
· Are you surprised by any of the privileges you have identified?
· How can you use your privilege to enhance the communities you serve, or to create a more equitable environment for those who do not have your specific privileges?
· Are there other tools you feel are needed to assist you in understanding and dismantling systems of power and privilege in the community you serve?