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IM #3: ⚖️ Privilege, I thought I understood it.

2 min read reading time

Hey People manager,

How will you create equitable teams if you don’t understand privilege?

Whoa, heavy topic. Are we really doing this?

Yep. We care. So we are.

Until last year, I thought I understood privilege and how it affects my work as a manager.

I’m black, male, and grew up Zimbabwe. A country that, until 43 years ago was under the colonial rule of the British Empire.

Of course I understood privilege and unfairness.

People with privilege, I thought, have advantages because they belong to a dominant group. Usually because they are some combination of white, male, non-disabled, cis-gender, neurotypical etc.

People with privilege have money, connections, and access to power. The have easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy access to opportunities the rest of us struggle to get.

Feeling cringey right now? Triggered? Maybe you've got some internal eye-rolling going on. Maybe even a bit of here-we-go-again-iness.

Those feelings right there? They are the problem.

See, this perspective of “privilege as the presence of advantage” sucks because it leads to conversations that:

  • Make folks feel guilty about their advantages
  • Make folks worry that someone wants to take something away from them
  • Make folks feel like defending what they have
  • Distract us all from seeing, understanding and working on the real issues

I'd come up against these issues, but I didn't know I needed a reframe. Until I heard John Amaechi say this on Adam Grant's Work/Life podcast:

“Privilege is NOT the presence of advantage. Privilege is the absence of inconvenience.”


This idea excited me as a manager.

I realised that if I wanted to bring more fairness to my team, all I had to do was look for the inconveniences of the unprivileged and remove them. Or at least reduce their impact.

I couldn't (and sadly still can't) solve all the world's social ills. But I can use the power I have to make changes where I have influence: on my team.

Here's an exercise I use to looks for inconveniences, I ask this:

When it comes to [situation at work], how might [person on my team] suffer more inconvenience than their peers?

Some examples of how you might use it:

❔ When it comes to getting promoted how might Tremaine suffer more inconvenience than others?

❔ When it comes to presenting in meetings how might Juhee suffer more inconvenience than others?

❔ When it comes to finding a sponsor or mentor how might Zhao suffer more inconvenience than others?

❔ When it comes to going to company drinks how might Zara suffer more inconvenience than others?

❔ When it comes to being chosen for high visibility work how might Chipo suffer more inconvenience than others?

❔ When it comes to taking parental leave how might Deborah, a mother-to-be, suffer more inconvenience than others?

❔ When it comes to taking parental leave how might Vlad, a father-to-be, suffer more inconvenience than others?

Not all inconveniences will be obvious. And you won’t get the full set of inconveniences for any individual. Being comprehensive isn’t the point.

The point is to focus on and keep looking for the inconveniences and not the advantages of privilege.

We can learn from the inconveniences.

We can work on the inconveniences.

Will the work be hard? Hell yes!

But easing the inconveniences and hardships of inequality faced by the people reporting to you?

Totally worth it.

Now, go be a badass people manager.

Thanks for reading this far.

Thanks for your kindness and generosity.

Stay awesome. See you next week.


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