How to navigate power and privilege in the workplace

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Power is defined as the ability to direct and influence behavior, events, and allocation of resources.

Privilege is a form of societal power. Specifically, privilege is a form of unearned power that is derived from sex, race, gender, ability, and/or socioeconomic standing.

This week, on The Femails, we speak to Felicia Jadczak and Rachel Murray of She Geeks Out, about power, privilege, diversity, inclusion, and equality in the workplace.


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Listen to the full episode over on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts. A full transcription of the episode can be found here.

WHAT DOES PRIVILEGE LOOK LIKE IN THE WORKPLACE?

Hint: It’s not always apparent.

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 most privileged person in the office is not going to see it‚ unless she actively seeks it out. Understanding and acknowledging that privilege exists is, like any other massive problem, the first step.

HOW DO WE ADDRESS PRIVILEGE?

Privilege is uncomfortable. Addressing privilege is very uncomfortable for many people. Why? Many people benefitting from privilege on a daily basis do not want to talk about it. Instead, when confronted by this unearned power, a privileged person might reply with, “But I am just a regular, good person.”

This is the first mistake. Two things can be true at once. Just because you are “good” doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t also benefit from privilege. The most privileged people are born into it. Instead of bitting back, take a moment to recognize that it exists.

Think, for example, of your commute to work.

  • Do you feel safe on your train at an early hour?
  • Do you feel in danger when traveling at any time of the day?
  • Are you able to disembark your train without a ramp?
  • Do you feel at risk if a police officer enters the train car?

Privilege is being able to effortlessly answer yes to every one of these questions. Privilege is not having to give a second thought to any of them. Privilege affords a close to effortless navigation through daily life.

HOW TO WE LEVERAGE OUR OWN PRIVILEGE

Use your privileged voice to raise others up, too. You can do a lot at your own company. If there aren’t any employee resource groups available, get to work on creating one.

Small needle shifts have an impact, too. Become an ally on a daily basis—small steps will start to make a big difference. This means not allowing the most dominant voice to take over in every meeting. This means following diverse voices on Twitter. This means asking questions and really listening to the answers. This means not throwing up your hands and saying “It’s too hard!” It means taking time to identify what your privilege affords you—and how you can use to lift others up with you.

Speak to others who may hold even more privilege than you. Get them in on the conversation when and where it’s happening.

This article first appeared on CareerContessa.com