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How Privileged Are You? Let's Take a Privilege Walk

The following is an edited extract from  Demanding More.

Privilege is incredibly intricate and it is a layered experience. How you are treated is never isolated down to one characteristic. This is called intersectionality.

The privilege walk covers lots of different areas – gender, ethnicity, disability, neurodiversity, sexual orientation, economic background, language, nationality and more. The culmination of all of these different traits deems how society treats and values you and none is any more or less important than the other.

As we can’t take an in-person walk, answer along and count your score – you start at 0.

1. If you are white, add one point. If you are a person of colour, deduct one point.

White privilege is a very real thing. It’s important we realize that being white, even if you are poor, a member of the LGBT+ community, disabled etc. still means that one thing that doesn’t make your life harder is your skin colour. Racism is more than calling someone a racial slur – it is subtle.

2. If you are a man, add one point. If you are not, deduct one point.

Male privilege includes the security of knowing success is attributed to your gender, the potential less worry around personal safety, and the stereotypes that play into your favour because of gender norms.

3. If you identify with the gender you were assigned at birth, add one point. If you do not, deduct one point.

This means you are comfortable and happy with the gender you were assigned at birth. Transgender folks do not have that privilege and it’s important that if you have not had to worry, you consider the serious emotional, psychological and physical health impact, alongside potential financial costs to transitioning.

4. If you are heterosexual, add one point. If you are not, deduct one point.

If you are not a member of the LGBTQA+ (that’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or asexual+) community, you will not have had to consider whether your sexual orientation or gender conformity will put you at risk – whether that’s risk of livelihood, safety, financial stability, opportunity and more. Simply existing shouldn’t put your livelihood and safety at risk, but for many folks it does.

5. If you are a member of one or more other underrepresented groups, deduct one point for each group.

Privilege is layered and intricate. These things all add up and cause different effects.

6. If you have visible or invisible disabilities, deduct one point.

7. If you have ever been unable to attend a meeting or event space because a lift was out of order or there was no appropriate access or had to turn on an accessibility feature on your phone to use an app, deduct one point.

Disabilities are not always visibly obvious. Disability affects many people in many, many different ways. There is potentially an extra physical, mental, emotional and financial cost to being disabled.

For example, if you use a wheelchair, you may constantly worry about whether there will be appropriate access/door widths for you to get to events/hotels/homes. If you have a chronic illness, such as endometriosis, you may have extra worries about searching for jobs that can support the different rest periods that you may need. If you are non-disabled, these are not things you have to consider.

8. If you have a university degree, add one point. If you attended an elite university, add another point.

Attending university in itself is a privilege. It is expensive and not everyone has been exposed to university possibly due to upbringing, cultural influences and family responsibilities. It is also important to note the association of ‘intelligence’ to certain universities and the snobbery that exists around people attending or not attending those.

I want us to think of the barriers to accessing those kinds of universities. There are steep fees but even steeper cultural and economic association barriers.

9. If English is your first language, add one point.

10. If you have a different accent from the majority where you work, deduct one point.

Language and accent are interesting discussions. The English language dominates business rooms and more. Realistically, this is because of the colonization of the world by Great Britain, therefore elevating the language they brought with them.

Accents play a huge role in how ‘important’ and ‘intelligent’ we deem people to be, too.

Additionally, language in itself is a unique barrier. I’ve done this exercise globally and, especially in certain European regions, this is noticeable. For example, in the Nordics, all legislation is written in Norwegian, so if you don’t speak/write Norwegian, clients won’t work with you. In various different regions of Belgium, people speak French, in others they speak Flemish and in others German, and again, if you don’t speak the right language in the right place, getting jobs (and high paid jobs especially) is incredibly difficult. Consider the impact of this for those who are either 1) from poorer backgrounds and potentially haven’t been taught two languages or 2) immigrants who move to a country.

There is a lot to understand in how we are able to be proud of a country’s heritage and language without being actively exclusionary to those who potentially don’t speak our language(s) or identify entirely with all aspects of our culture.

11. If your company sponsors your work visa, deduct one point.

If your company sponsors your work visa, your rights to remain in the place you live are dependent on your employer. That can create difficult attachments when it comes to potentially wanting to leave toxic, negative workplaces, but not being able to due to this need to stay. Immigration processes are expensive and lengthy – many folks cannot afford these alone.

12. If you have a name that is expected in the country where you work, add one point.

13. If your name is regularly spelled incorrectly or mispronounced, deduct one point.

14. If you are regularly mistaken as someone else of the same ethnicity, deduct one point. If this does not happen to you, add one point.

How important is your name to you? What does it signify? Is it yours and only yours? Even if someone else has the same name, your name is still singularly belonging to your personality.

Names in environments where they are not common are seen as ‘outliers’ and ‘different’. That, in itself, defines you as ‘the other’.

White people, and white men, are more represented in leadership than any other demographics. Their names are typically well understood, and due to their power, if there is effort needed to be expended to say their names, that will happen.

In addition, people regularly saying your name wrong, especially after they have been corrected, is disrespectful. I think about this a lot, as a woman of colour who was almost named Nirushika Atcheson instead of Sheree Atcheson. My name and Irish accent give me an anonymity that means no one can tell I am a person of colour until they see me – therefore, for example in CV screening or on phone calls, I do not face the same bias as other people of colour do.

Why being mistaken for someone of the same ethnicity is offensive should be easy to understand. It is boiling someone down to their ethnicity only – disregarding their personality, who they are, their impact and more. It has happened to me in the past and it is jarring and upsetting.

If this doesn’t happen to you, please consider what this feels like. And intervene when you can.

15. If you have ever felt passed over for a job based on your gender, ethnicity, age or sexual orientation, deduct one point.

16. If you have been told to wait your turn for a promotion or exciting project assignment behind a similarly qualified peer, deduct one point.

Remember that biases don’t exist in isolation, they affect everything – including who gets what job and why, who is left out of social events because they may be different and who is assigned the ‘office glue work’ that is integral to things happening, but so readily is forgotten in promotion cases. A few examples of this are note-taking, actively mentoring other more junior team members or spending time sharing knowledge across the team.

There is an important part here in how feedback is crucial to getting ahead in any environment. How can you know what you do well and can do better if no one tells you?

17. If you can speak openly about your significant other(s), add one point.

This is specifically focusing on those from the LGBTQA+ community and those from religious backgrounds who may not feel able to talk about their partner.

We can use more inclusive language around how we talk about our own partners (if we’re cis-gendered and heterosexual) by using gender-neutral terms, such as ‘partner’ or ‘spouse’, instead of ‘boyfriend’, ‘girlfriend’, ‘husband’ or ‘wife’.

18. If you feel you can actively and effectively contribute to meetings you attend, add one point. If you are regularly interrupted or ignored in meetings when others are not, deduct one point.

Seniority level is important in privilege. Being more senior usually means having the privilege of being listened to and, at a minimum, having access to the rooms you need to do your job effectively.

However, there is a difference in speaking, and speaking and being heard. I’m sure you’ll all have experienced this in your lives. We can all speak verbally, or in whatever mode of communication we choose, but if no one listens or actions what you’re communicating, how do you feel? Disengaged and unimportant. Likewise, being interrupted regularly can be a sign of disrespect or being viewed as not important enough to warrant being listened to. It is crucial we spend time actually thinking about who we listen to and why. Are we actively zoning out other voices subconsciously or consciously?

19. If you are the primary caregiver for someone, deduct one point.

Looking after someone is not easy. Whether that is children, parents, siblings, relatives, friends or anyone else. It takes time, money, physical, emotional and mental strength and so many folks do it on top of salaried jobs (when this is a job in itself).

Consider the cultural impact here too. In many communities, such as Black and Asian communities, it is commonplace that those bringing in a wage look after the rest of the family. It is also common in families from poorer backgrounds (remember poverty also disproportionately affects brown and Black people more than white too).

This means that when we talk about expendable income and caring responsibilities, we must remember that there are different cultural elements at play. Not every person of X age on Y salary has Z extra money – it may be going to look after many different people.

20. If you are from a lower socioeconomic background, deduct one point.

Coming from a lower socioeconomic background and progressing is not easy. Being from a poorer background gives a different approach and set of barriers to life. There are different contexts in which people are raised too, which means that there are different views of what success is and how you achieve that. Is it becoming a CEO or is it being able to have food on the table each night?

It’s also harder to progress into spaces that are dominated by those from high economic backgrounds because you start feeling like you are ‘the other’ if you are the only one with a different background, from a different place, with a different accent and more. There are many unspoken knowledge pieces that those in more financially stable backgrounds have – how to negotiate, ‘carrying yourself’, how to be confident. These things do not always map over.

21. If you have ever been called a 'diversity hire', deduct one point.

22. If you have ever been harassed at work, deduct one point. If you have ever felt unsafe at work or at a professional event, deduct another point.

23. If you have ever felt unsafe leaving work late at night, or going home after an evening event, deduct one point.

Feeling safe is a privilege that many folks do not need to worry about. Safety is an immense, regularly unspoken, privilege – it is a gateway to confidence and self-assuredness.

Privilege is nuanced and intricate. We have covered lots of different types of privilege here, and there are more! If you were completing this exercise, what is your score?

I have run these workshops globally and usually, there is a relatively clear breakdown in terms of gender and ethnicity. From back to front, usually, there are:

  • Black women;
  • other women of colour and Black men;
  • white women with caring responsibilities and other men of colour;
  • white women with no caring responsibilities and white men with caring responsibilities;
  • white men with no caring responsibilities.

This is just an overall view; it is not the way things always end up, but it’s important to note that these trends happen. Spend some time thinking about your score, share this exercise with your friends, family and work colleagues.

Think about how your life would be different if you stepped forward or back.

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