To support diversity and inclusivity, first understand your own privilege
On the leadership panel at this year’s Fundraising Convention, I was introduced as the token white middle-aged middle-class, straight, able-bodied bloke, and asked how I dealt with that.
These are all unearned privileges – advantages in life I just come with. When we’re talking about discrimination and bias, unconscious or otherwise, that gets in the way of diversity, inclusivity and equality, it is important to recognise that we all have advantages in some regard, and we all have biases – prejudices even – too. We just don’t think hard enough about our advantages, and what it means for others without them. Those without our privileges, on the other hand, are all too aware of them.
Take language, for example. I’m a native English-speaker. I have worked in international organisations with colleagues whose English is fluent, and it’s easy to forget (and humbling and impressive when you remember), that they are working in a non-native language. (It’s the idioms that get them, put a cat amongst the pigeons and lift the lid on this can of worms.)
So – what to do about it?
First, think about it, and recognise it.
It’s simply there. Good though I am at what I do, much as I have won jobs on merit by being the best candidate, I have also had on my side the luck of my unearned privilege that got me to the starting line in the first place. Being a leader in the fundraising sector with my profile has felt a bit awkward at times – it’s a bit bonkers that men have dominated at the top in such a women-dominated sector.
Thankfully, that’s changing. Thankfully, the latest polled list of most-influential fundraisers is 80% women... and about time.
I’ve no time for the view that taking positive steps to re-address the balance, through conference speaker diversity, for example, is suddenly discriminatory against men. Guys, get over it. As the saying goes, 'those accustomed to privilege see equality as oppression'.
Second, talk about it.
A way into this is to explore how we ourselves feel ‘othered’, because most of us feel that in some way or another. Hard-done-by, left out, misunderstood, the minority. We win on some things, and lose on others. Thinking about where we lose and are ‘othered’ can help us appreciate the advantages – privileges – we have.
I for example, win by being all the things I listed at the start. I lose by being left-handed. Try holding ergonomically moulded scissors in your left hand and you’ll feel what I mean. On the London Underground, for lefties, the Oyster tap thing is always on the wrong side. That’s probably an eye-opener for most of you righties. I lose by being an introvert in an extrovert world. Just watch Susan Cain’s TEDTalk on this. I lose by having experienced depression and needing to be conscious of my mental health.
I hope it is blindingly obvious, but of course I am not suggesting any equivalence here. These are minor disadvantages compared to the unearned privileges I have. But it’s important to recognise that privilege, and disadvantage, can be invisible. “Always be kind, because you never know what the other person is having to cope with”, says one of those quote gifs.
Finally, acknowledge it and do something about it.
It’s a truism – those pushing the boundaries to get on in the face of others’ unearned privilege have to be even better than the already privileged competition to get noticed. If you’re lucky to be loaded with unearned privilege, as I am, have the humility to acknowledge it.
For things to change, we first have to notice what needs changing, and then be intentional about making the change. So, notice, acknowledge, step up, step back, speak up, and be an ally in the fight for equality.
Matthew Sherrington, Independent Communications and Leadership Consultant at Inspiring Action