1. Take stock of your privilege (and use it for good)
I’m starting this week’s newsletter with a discussion of the “P” word. Privilege.
At its core, privilege is a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group. Due to our race, class, gender, sexual orientation, language, geographical location, ability, religion, and more, all of us have greater or lesser access to resources and social power.
Then there’s intersectionality.* When someone is a member of more than one marginalized group, they live in an intersection of overlapping and compounded oppression. In other words, they experience drastically reduced privilege.
Here’s the thing: Privilege is often invisible to those who have it. This means that people can get defensive when someone mentions their privilege. Having one’s privilege pointed out might feel like the equivalent of being told that one is lazy or lucky — or that one’s life has been easy. Many people are quick to respond that they’ve had their fair share of difficulties in getting where they are today.
But doing this means forgetting that privilege is simply a system of advantages granted to all people in a given group.
In my book “Better Allies,” I compiled a list of “50 Potential Privileges in the Workplace,” which is also available as a free download. I encourage you to review the list, taking a moment to examine your own privilege and reflecting on the benefits or obstacles you face at work.
Then, consider these additional ways you might have more privilege than others in today’s global crisis. (Many thanks to my followers on Twitter for contributing to this list.)
- You have a job that can be done remotely.
- You have a home with reliable, high-speed internet access.
- You have a quiet room to work in.
- You have a desk and a decent chair, or your company will pay for you to have an ergonomic workspace.
- There are enough computers in your home for everyone who needs one.
- You live in a home where you are not at risk of violence — physical, psychological, or emotional.
- You enjoy spending time at home.
- If you have young children, someone else looks after them while you work.
- If you have school-aged children, someone else supervises their distant learning activities.
- You are not interrupted by other household members while you are working.
- You can get outside for fresh air and exercise daily.
- You can afford to purchase extra groceries to have on hand.
- Your household income is sufficient to pay the bills.
- You can continue paying housekeepers, gardeners, and childcare providers even if they can’t perform their work.
- You are healthy.
Now that you’ve taken stock, ask yourself if there’s more you can do to empathize with and support coworkers who don’t have as much privilege as you do. Then take action.
*Credit to Kimberlé Crenshaw for coining the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.”
2. Even with social distancing, reach out to mentees
Here’s just one idea for using your privilege for good: continue reaching out to mentees.
In Social Distancing Doesn’t Have to Disrupt Mentorship, professors (and long-time Better Allies champions) David G. Smith and W. Brad Johnson made the compelling case for not letting your commitments to mentees slide during this time of crisis:
“In ordinary circumstances, many mentors focus on the career functions of mentoring. Although those remain important, the psychosocial functions — acceptance, affirmation, friendship, emotional support, reassurance — are especially valuable in uncertain times.”
What does this look like? Smith and Johnson recommend discussing the experiences and challenges you’re both facing, being supportive, and simply giving permission to mentees to take a break from the news and their work routines to engage in self-care.
Plus, they pointed to research on telementoring of surgeons:
“There is good evidence that mentoring via real-time videoconferencing yields equivalent outcomes to in-person mentoring.”
3. Stop “splaining” in its tracks
I learned about the term “splaining” from Jennifer Brown’s book, “How to Be an Inclusive Leader.” In it, she expands the traditional definition of mansplaining to any conversation where one person holds more power or privilege and assumes they have the intellectual upper hand. Jennifer’s list includes whitesplaining, straightsplaining, able(-bodied)splaining, wealthysplaining, thinsplaining, and so on. As she writes,
“Those who splain may have the intent of helping the situation, but the actual impact of their actions can feel condescending or insulting.”
If you’re chairing a meeting (and chances are, it’s a remote meeting), keep your eyes open for any form of splaining. If you spot it, consider responding with a simple, “Let’s let the person who did the work explain what they did” or “Do you know so-and-so has expertise in that topic? Let’s hear from her.”
4. If you’re downsizing, analyze the demographics
Did you know that women are more likely to lose jobs in layoffs? According to Catalyst, this is because the majority of women remain in positions that are too often seen as dispensable. I’m also concerned that women and members of other underrepresented groups are often not as visible to leaders as their white male counterparts, which makes them less likely to be retained during layoffs.
Catalyst goes on to recommend some best practices if you are faced with downsizing your organization. (Because their focus is on women in the workplace, their guidance is based on gender. I believe it can also apply to other underrepresented groups.)
- Analyze your workforce metrics and understand the demographics of the employees you are impacting with a layoff.
- Look to redeploy high-potential women into other jobs to retain the best talent inside the company.
- Exit low-performers and open up roles for high-performing women who would otherwise lose their jobs.
If you’re tasked with the difficult job of downsizing, analyze the demographics of your current team and the list of those you’re planning to let go. If the percentage of people from underrepresented groups losing their jobs is higher than your current demographics, please carefully consider Catalyst’s advice.
5. Use images of black people to increase representation
This week, I learned about Black Illustrations, a collection of free illustrations of people of color. I downloaded them, and they’re stunning! As the site explains,
“There just isn’t a lot of diversity in design. People of color are often underrepresented in illustrations, lacking in the design process and often go unseen in visuals across the internet.
We saw the lack of diversity as an opportunity to create a free resource for everyone. As a way to add diversity to online content by showcasing black people and people of color in a myriad of tasks, we hope to be the spark that creates more change in the digital landscape.”
Here’s why it matters. Each time we use images featuring people from underrepresented groups in our design mock-ups, slide decks, blog posts, or event announcements, we can help bust stereotypes of what our customers, employees, and community members “look like.”
As I’ve mentioned before, I curate a list of stock photography and image sites that specialize in increasing the visibility of women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and people with differing abilities. Updated now to include this new Black Illustrations collection. Check it out here.
I wish you strength and safety as we all move forward,
— Karen Catlin, Founder and Author of Better Allies
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