Let’s talk about privilege in the workplace
Privilege is everywhere. To understand how privilege works is to know how it exists and who holds it and how this affects the people around us.
Privilege exists everywhere and there are no exemptions. To talk about privilege is to delve deep into its meaning, to know its dynamics and who holds it and who doesn’t. In a society where various forms of inequality continue to persist despite the changing times, we need to know how privilege plays a role in this.
The thing about privilege is that it’s invisible, and especially so when you’re the one who has it.
You can’t easily point it out and think you can escape it. It’s the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed, because to ignore it means to let it continue existing, not minding how it directly affects how people are treated and given opportunities in society. Privilege has a systematized way of favoring specific social identities over others.
Privilege in the workplace
It is through privilege that oppressive age-old beliefs continue to persist in society and disenfranchise people.
However, it is important to understand that privilege doesn’t come in black and white. It is multi-dimensional and it takes various forms that are rooted in deeply-held biases about gender, age, race, disability, language, educational attainment, ethnicity and more.
Privilege in the context of the workplace aids in sustaining inequalities that affect how people are given the rights and opportunities to work. It paves the way for biases, both conscious and unconscious, to be kept in place. This is why in order to overcome privilege is to be self-aware--that you need to keep yourself in check if you hold privilege, that you must question yourself with how your advantage impedes the growth of others especially in a space like the workplace.
There is no denying that despite the continuous progressive changes we see in society that there are still hindrances that keep us from having a workplace environment that is truly diverse and inclusive. Due to deeply entrenched patriarchal ideas in the public consciousness, there are still so many women who are not given the same treatment and opportunities as men in the workplace. Women are deemed subordinate to men just because men hold more power in so many industries than women. The privilege that men have been holding all throughout history over women still deeply and obviously affects how women live today.
One big issue that shows the privilege of men in the workplace is how women can be discriminated against simply because they go through motherhood. Some companies see childbearing as a disadvantage because it can keep women away from their work. However, how can you deprive women of work opportunities because of something as natural as motherhood? This begs the question; how can men hold more privilege simply because they don’t go through something that women do?
On age and hierarchy
The case for many organizations is that hierarchy is assigned based on age over competence. Even if an individual who is young is seen as more competent over someone who is older than them, the older employee is usually favored more. And this is because of how power and responsibility are usually given to senior workers. The belief that older individuals hold more wisdom gives them more power which ends up minimizing the voices of the younger generation who may possess great wisdom and insights of their own.
Privilege in the workplace in the context of age and hierarchy can hinder the growth of younger members of the workforce. This can make them discouraged and this can also make it seem that their voices and efforts are not as valid as those who are older and are positioned higher up in the hierarchy ladder of an organization.
In Singapore and other multi-racial South East Asian countries, there is a longstanding debate on Chinese privilege in the workplace. With those within the largest ethnic group in Singapore perceived to be favored more in organizations which puts individuals of other ethnicities at a disadvantage. In this scenario the value of diversity is ignored and the workplace becomes restricted. Instead of being a space where everyone can grow regardless of their ethnicity, it becomes a breeding ground for racial antagonism that can heavily affect how an organization functions and presents itself to the public.
How do we address privilege in the workplace
To properly address privilege in the workplace is to find ways to dismantle it. Since privilege is systemic, which can be seen especially in the structure of the workplace, it should be recognized and talked about.
Those who hold privilege in an organization, whether because of their gender, age, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or others, should be made aware of how their privilege affects others around them as well as the entire workplace.
Through this, a more efficient system that is self-aware and reflexive with regards to privilege can be put in place. Further, it is time to consciously get rid of biases and to understand how these play a role in cultivating toxic work environments that deprive workers of equal opportunities towards the career growth they deserve.
Privileged and intersecting identities
When we say that privilege has many aspects, we recognize its complexity. As we contextualized privilege in the context of gender, age, and ethnicity in the workplace setting, it is now to further consolidate how privilege works.
While a woman can be seen disadvantaged compared to men, a woman can still hold privilege over other women based on her age and ethnicity. Furthermore, a young male worker may still hold privilege over a young female worker in workplace even if they may face
This is because a privileged identity is not singular--it holds intersecting identities that determine an individual’s position in society, and in this context, the workplace. To hold privilege is to hold power, whether you are aware of it or not. It’s a process of reflecting and learning about oneself against the backdrop of society in order to know how much privilege you hold and how this affects other people around you.
Even beyond the workplace, empathy is key to understanding how privilege works. In order to build a world that is less harsh, that is somehow more giving to each and everyone, no matter their place in society, we must first and foremost recognize that privilege exists and each of us are carrying different experiences and taking on different paths as we go through life.
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