The power of privilege and what I've been doing to foster equality

October 4, 2020

As a middle-class, middle-aged straight white male, I'm used to privilege.

It wasn't until the last few years that I realized how much privilege I had and how much of my life including my relationships and career, was impacted by it.

In November 2018, this understanding hit me like a brick wall.

More accurately, my attendance at a workshop led by Mike Monteiro was the wall; Mike was simply the one who slammed me into it. Typical Mike.

Vivianne Castillo and Karen Woods turned my head while up against the bricks. They helped me identify where I could improve.

I've been working ever since to change how I interact with the world and do my part to make it better. There's been others since, but these are the people who put me on this path.

I was raised by strong women – my mother, her sister, aunts, grandmothers and my older sister – to respect and support women. My father taught me how to be polite, kind and look out for others no matter who they were or where they came from. My wife keeps me on track.

I think it's especially important that I teach our sons the same lessons and help guide them to a place where I really only arrived two years ago. I'd prefer they get there much earlier and make choices in their lives that will help create a better world for everyone.

For my daughter, my role is different but equally vital. I want to be able to demonstrate to her through my interactions with other people that she is to be respected, listened to, appreciated for who she is and given equal opportunity.

Here's some of the things I've personally been doing to foster equality at work.

Empower others

  • When in multi-person meetings, whether in person or on group video calls I purposely make eye contact with and acknowledge the presence of those who do not look like me. If in person, I find a seat closer to those different than me rather than a place beside another white male.
  • In those meetings, if I get the sense someone wants to say something but are unsure about when and how, I ask them for their thoughts. This is also something I don't push. Not everyone wants to talk in a group. There's been a number of times where I approach the person afterwards and ask in private. If they desire, I support them in sharing their opinion with the group.
  • With the input of others, I make design and communication choices that are responsible and support inclusivity and diversity. As a designer and design leader, I am a gatekeeper of what I bring into the world, and what I choose not to bring into the world.

Persuade those who are like me to do the same

  • If I witness others who look like me behaving in a way that does not include and support those who do not, I either speak up and challenge them or talk them to privately in a calm and collected manner. This is often a very tough situation to get through, so I start slow and cautious. No one likes to be embarrassed.
  • Recognize that I'm not the only one on a journey, and there's other people like me who have been living and behaving this way for much longer. The last thing I need to do is be preachy. Rather, I should lead by example and be humble in my approach.

I have a long way to go, but I'm grateful to have gained the knowledge of my privilege. I now purposely make decisions to foster change and aim to help create a more equitable and loving world.