Guest post by Salma Shah who is an Accredited Coach, the founder of coaching and leadership development platform Mastering Your Power, and author of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in Coaching: A Practical Guide (Kogan Page).
Why businesses need to acknowledge privilege to achieve equity
Any business committed to positive change needs to accept and acknowledge that talent is everywhere, but opportunity isn’t. We simply can’t ignore the reality and existence of privilege and the opportunity gap for many from under-represented groups who do not have economic and cultural access to the dominant, middle-class income experiences, values, practices, languages, networks, educational attainment and executive coaching.
For someone from an under-represented minority background, due to the lack of systemic privilege, there is a high likelihood they may have experienced subtle and explicit rejection for no justifiable reason or had to work extra hard to achieve the same results as their colleagues. These experiences inevitably have a knock-on effect leading to low self-worth and low confidence.
For many organisations ‘diversity’ in the workplace is already a familiar concept. The work in this area has now evolved towards increasing awareness of the reality of systemic barriers to inclusion experienced by people from marginalised backgrounds, which have prompted the term “equity” to be at the forefront of conversations around diversity and inclusion. Nevertheless, leaders and managers cannot achieve equity if they are unwilling to address the nuances of privilege and its impact on creating a fairer and fit for future workplace.
In today’s workplace many organisations have hidden cultural tectonic plates which are an ethos of the past, with barriers to change also rooted in the past. Unfortunately, this loyalty to the past can be detrimental – so how can an organisation create new loyalty? The next generation of employees is very switched on about inclusion for all. They will only want to work for and stay with forward-thinking, fair and equitable organisations.
It is normal that we see the world from our lens and perspective, it is also predictable that we may have a blind spot about our personal privilege. There are visible and invisible systems which need to be understood at different levels. The impact of belonging to certain systems brings the benefits of privilege.
Individuals and organisations facing into their own privilege may feel uncomfortable. Most of our privilege is acquired at birth and wasn’t through our personal choice. Feeling guilty and ashamed of our privilege can end up in paralysis of feelings and lead to inaction. As leaders, we are in a powerful position to make a change.
Furthermore, having privilege doesn’t eradicate our own life’s twists and turns. Heart break, mental health, grief and loss can happen to any of us. Privilege shouldn’t stop anyone speaking their truth and asking for support and help.
Nonetheless, privilege with a sense of superiority and psychological entitlement is an issue. A belief that one deserves more and is entitled to more is a cause for concern. Psychological entitlement has been linked to a pattern of selfish and self-serving beliefs and behaviours – deserving more than others, greater game playing and less empathy.
Any leader who is in denial or defensive of their own privilege may find it challenging to connect and have empathy with employees whose background lacks privilege and therefore miss the opportunity to take action and make a tangible difference.
As business leaders continue to strategize how to foster a culture of belonging among their employees, it’s important that they acknowledge the disparity of privilege to add to the idea of workplace equity to their leadership toolkit.
Salma Shah is an Accredited Coach, the founder of coaching and leadership development platform Mastering Your Power, and author of Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging in Coaching: A Practical Guide (Kogan Page).
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