Could the nation and as a subset, the workplace, be race neutral? I doubt it. When I became the director of a large department in a new organization, the last thing I wanted to deal with was a racial discrimination case. I wanted to get to know people, share ideas and co-create goals based on a shared vision. Unfortunately, I was the subject of racial animus. It was rumored that one of my direct reports resigned rather than work with me. One was openly hostile and another told me he could sabotage me by doing exactly what I asked him to do. Thank goodness the other two decided to give me a chance to prove I was worthy of my position. As a new person, I didn’t want to deal with anything controversial, I just wanted to fit in, but I didn’t have that privilege.
The word privilege strikes a nerve with a lot of people. Many deny its existence. I have straight male privilege and proud of it. My mentor has white privilege, and I am so glad he did because he shared it. I owe my compassionate and purpose-driven leadership style to him. He saw potential, then supported and challenge me to bring out what was within me. He provided opportunity by introducing me to people I never would have known and getting me into places I didn’t know existed. In other words, shared privilege is good. Hoarded privilege is not.
So, what is this thing called privilege? Like everyone else, I Googled it. This is the definition that resonates with me: Privilege is a right or immunity granted a peculiar benefit advantage or favor. Created by belief systems codified by laws. It is publicly denied but privately claimed. While privilege has given me a degree of favor, I am still realizing the benefits that others acquired at birth.
The nation and the workplace are grappling with two separate visions of America. Biases are more consciously expressed. Half of the nation wants equity and equality and the other wants exclusivity. Race and gender pay gaps still need attention. If race and gender discrimination are present in society it is present in the workplace.
Millions of dollars are spent on diversity and inclusion training, but discrimination persists. I had an employee tell me diversity training was a waste of taxpayer money. She is not alone. I will not vilify her because we respected each other but had differing opinions.
Rather than direct the lion’s share of resources on training, I suggest offering incentives based on managerial expectations tied to performance reviews linked to the organization’s mission. Collecting perspectives from people from different cultural backgrounds could pay dividends. History has proven that great ideas are not limited to one demographic. “Change your thoughts, change your destiny.”