Diversity & inclusion3 min read

Scenarios: how to use your privilege

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From a very young age, we’re taught about fairness.

But we are rarely taught that treating everyone the same isn’t fair.

Think of it this way, would it be fair to give everyone in the same bicycle without taking into account their individual needs?

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“Visualizing Health Equity” by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Equality aims to promote fairness, but treating everyone the same in the name of equality only works if everyone starts from the same place.

That’s why we need to shine a light on equity. Equity is about giving people what they need to level the playing field.

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“Visualizing Health Equity” by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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😬 Situation: A teammate casually deadnames a transgender colleague (used the name they used before transitioning) in conversation. You correct them and they retort, “I forgot, okay? Why are you making a big deal about it? You know who I meant. What happened to free speech?”.

🔎 Identify the oppressed group’s obstacle: Deadnaming (using the name of someone before their transition) invalidates a transgender person’s identity by calling their identity into question. Using someone’s chosen name seems to only become a problem in a transgender context — most of us have no problem someone gets married and takes their partner’s surname.

🔬 Identify your privilege: You can speak up about this issue and not seem emotional or self-serving. Your personal detachment means you can educate your colleague without having to set aside your pain to explain.

✊ Use your privilege: Gently point out how ludicrous a comment that is. Explain that you don’t want to alienate your transgender colleague by not using the name they live by, like non-transgender folk do without question.

🌟 The equitable outcome: An agreement to only use chosen names so that everyone is referred to with a name they identify with. This balances the advantage/disadvantage of being born with a name you identify with while others are not.

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Fox India GIF by @foxadhd.

😬 Situation: Your manager shares the job description your team is hiring for. One of the essential requirements listed is a degree from a top-tier university.

🔎 Identify the oppressed group’s obstacle: This requirement means that people of colour and people of working-class, who are underrepresented at top-tier universities, may not get a chance to even prove themselves. And because they don’t know about the design of the process, they can’t give feedback on it.

🔬 Identify your privilege: You are already on the team — so you have a say in resourcing and you know what actually correlates with performance.

✊ Use your privilege: Challenge their idea of meritocracy and explain that they have already lowered the bar if they select based on characteristics unrelated to performance. Appeal to their sense of fair play by casting the widest net.

🌟 The equitable outcome: A wider net actually means heightened competition and a higher bar — you’ll meet with and hire better applicants that you may have dismissed. Plus raising the diversity on your team will lead to more innovative collaboration.

GIF by @kimburgerly

GIF by @kimburgerly.

😬 Situation: You’re a white woman collaborating on a presentation for International Women’s Day. Two of your white female colleagues are tone policing a Black female colleague. They say that her suggested contribution to the presentation is too aggressive and doesn’t fit the style they were going for.

🔎 Identify the oppressed group’s obstacle: “White feminism” is a label for enactment of feminism that puts white women at the centre. It minimises women of colour’s issues and lets white women dictate the status quo in a movement that should be for all women.

🔬 Identify your privilege: As a white woman, you notice that your perspective will be readily included. You can speak up without having your passion being labelled as “angry” (see: Angry Black Woman stereotype) or being told that you’re being divisive or “making everything about race”.

✊ Use your privilege: Speak up and challenge the oppressive feedback. Remind the white colleagues that feminism is only real feminism if it’s inclusive of everyone. Endorse your Black colleague and then pass the mic by asking what feedback they’d like to give on the presentation. Does it represent what they want it to yet? How can you all make it better?

🌟 The equitable outcome: the whole group can meaningfully learn from one another and take a step forward in practising credible, inclusive feminism. Hopefully, the presentation in question will be more representative and powerful.

Girl Illustration GIF by @bigcartel

Girl Illustration GIF by @bigcartel.

🗝️ Your key takeaway

Through everyday acts of using your privilege, you can see that equity is not zero-sum. You do not to ‘handicap’ the privileged. Instead, if you identify what the obstacles are to those less privileged than you, you can use your privilege to create an equitable outcome.

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