LinkedIn Live: How does workplace trauma impact us? DEI Facilitator Discussion
LinkedIn Live: How does workplace trauma impact us? DEI Facilitator Discussion
Seven Ways to Support and Increase Women in Leadership

Nine Ways to Use Your Privilege at Work

Unraveling Privilege and Identity at Work

“Dr. Vee, how can I talk about my identity or my privileged identities and practice allyship in the workplace?” is one of the more common questions I get asked in my job, and it comes from leaders and individual contributors. As a person who has apparent (visible) privilege and non-apparent (invisible) oppressed (or disadvantaged) identities, I understand this question from the bottom of my soul. 

The first step, in my opinion, is acknowledging that I hold certain privileges or unearned advantages, such as those I experience as a white perceived person. But I also have oppressed or disadvantaged identities –  I’m a ciswoman, I’m queer, I’m Autistic, and I’m disabled. But none of these things operate in isolation from the others, so it’s important to recognize, first and foremost, that I experience privilege. Now let’s get on the same page about privilege.

Take a quick look at this video that gives a definition and also a quick look at how we can experience privilege at work. In short, privilege is the unearned advantage that some groups experience over others. Think of it like this: privilege is the experience of existing as the default. So when we think of the prototypical example of a woman, we think of a white woman. When we think of a CEO, our brains default to what we’ve seen or know based on patterns we’ve seen before, typically a white man. When we consider certain holidays (in the US), we do so from a Christian calendar perspective (for the majority) because that’s the default.

Below are some examples of various identities with privileges to consider. They also show ways we can start to name workplace bias if and when we notice it so we can challenge the default thinking and practice allyship in the workplace:

  • Religion: In the US, we use a Christian calendar, so when we're scheduling workshops during high holidays for Jewish employees, have lunch meetings during Ramadan, or only host networking events that center on happy hours, we may be excluding people. Start to notice and name this if people aren't present.
  • Gender: Men notice and name when women are cut off while speaking, ignored, or their ideas are restated by another person, especially women of color. We can use and actively share pronouns (if comfortable) and ensure we use the correct pronouns for everyone.
  • Sexuality: Straight people can use inclusive language and challenge themselves to not assume someone’s sexuality by gendering their partner based on physical characteristics (if someone is more feminine or masculine, for example).
  • Relationship status: We can use inclusive language when including partners in activities and recognizing that not everyone has one partner.
  • Neurodiversity: When it comes to learning styles, learning abilities, and processing, we can challenge ourselves to think beyond our ways of doing things and recognize that not everyone processes the same. If you’re curious about this, google neurodivergent to learn more! 
  • Ability: There are many disabled people in our workplaces, some have apparent disabilities, and some have non-apparent (also called “invisible”) disabilities. Try to curb judgment when it comes to others because we don’t know what's happening. Advocate for accessibility without saying a word by enabling captions on zoom for video calls and use alt-texts for images so screen readers can access material, for starters. Additionally, consider the language you’re using to ensure it's not ableist.
  • Race: For those of us who are white or white-passing, in order to be an ally, we need to pay close attention to the intersection of race and the other marginalized identities of our co-workers. A common pitfall is when someone ‘nicknames’ someone without consent because of a “hard to pronounce name.” We can use our privilege by advocating for our co-workers and correcting that behavior.
  • Ageism: There are currently five different generations in the workforce. Each generation has unique ways of experiencing work based on many factors, including their history as part of the workforce and using different types of technology. We can advocate for others by considering where we hold privilege and using our voice to challenge assumptions.
  • Caregiver Status: We can all advocate for each other by not assuming someone else's capacities or abilities due to their caregiver status and responsibilities. Allow the individual to make their own decisions about their capability. 

Next Steps: start researching!

  1. Reflect on which identities you think about least at work. Which ones do you think about the most? Reflect on the image below for your own identities. Take a minute and ask yourself, where do I hold power and where do I hold privilege? Consider your context and your location. Where do you fall within the various segments? And why is it important to unravel our privileges and our identity?
  2. Start researching about others. For example, Google real-life examples of how privilege can show up. Understand that privilege can manifest during 1:1 interactions with colleagues and start to address them by learning about microaggressions
  3. If you’re unfamiliar with any of the concepts we discussed here, dig in! Begin your learning journey and commit to it because allyship is a continuous practice.

The first step of moving forward is acknowledging our privileges by noticing and naming them. Amplify our colleague's voices. Believe and validate experiences of minoritization. You can continuously commit to filling in awareness gaps to unravel privilege and work towards active allyship.


Are you ready to find out more about bringing our impactful workshops and facilitators to your workplace? Learn more about our workshops and how we can help your team.