In and around the discussions about diversity and inclusion, there is a growing conversation around the concept of privilege and how this impacts different people and how the delivery of inclusion initiatives may have different outcomes due to identity differences.
What is privilege?
Originally formulated by W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903, privilege as a concept came into wider use in the 1980s when it was defined by Peggy McIntosh as ‘Privilege exists when one group has something of value that another group does not, not because of anything that they have done or not done, but simply because of the groups that they belong to. Privilege most frequently shows up as unearned advantage or conferred dominance.‘ So, for example, the privilege (structural advantage) for a middle class white man is different to that of a middle class disabled white man.
The video below is an easily-accessible introduction to the concept of privilege. It’s less about being labelled in any way and more about acknowledging that privilege exists
Privilege and intersection with inclusion
It is worth remembering that most societies consider advantage in different settings such as schools, colleges and workplaces as having to be earned or based on merit. We grow up with the notion that hard work, for example, is valued and will somehow confer an equiprobable likelihood of recognition. However, this is not the case. Privilege confers an added advantage to some over others and this can be reflected in the workplace. For example, in the West, if you are a man, you are more likely to be paid more than a woman for the same work. The privilege is just by virtue of belonging to the group i.e. men. Privilege is also linked with other concepts such as implicit bias, cognitive bias of different types, stereotypes and explicit discrimination. Inclusion initiatives need to consider structural advantage in order to be effective. For example, in designing inclusion initiatives for disabled people in the workplace, the added issues of race/ethnicity, gender and class need to be recognised to ensure that inclusive measures are able to capture everyone. Without recognition of privilege, inclusion initiatives are less likely to make inroads into the structural advantages which some groups have over others.