1.3 Recognize Privilege

“Check your privilege”. We’ve all heard that statement at least once. In the previous section, we introduced the concept that our unconscious bias gives more advantage to some identities over others. To have an honest conversation about inclusion, we need to recognize that there are different levels of power and privilege associated with different identities, which can have an impact on whether people feel included or excluded in specific contexts.

One thing that can happen when we start to have conversations about privilege is that people whose identities are associated with power and privilege can feel defensive.  Defensive thoughts and conversations sound like this:

“I didn’t ask for privilege. I was born into it so this isn’t my fault.”

“I may have privilege but I have worked for everything I have.”

“It’s an excuse to say that your identity stops you from achieving what you want to achieve. It’s all about hard work.”

The conversation about power and privilege is about helping people with privilege to understand its impacts, and to use their power to support others. It is not about blaming someone for having more privilege than someone else, or about having to give things up. The ultimate goal of conversations about privilege is to achieve equity [1].

Conversations about power and privilege need to start with awareness and build towards understanding and action.

Without recognizing and acknowledging the different levels of power and privilege that exist among members of your governance board (or potential members), it will be difficult to build a culture of inclusion.

In Appendix 1, we have created a resource on how to develop a framework for inclusive governance. This tool may be helpful for you to use with your board when you are starting this conversation.

  1. Hartzer, Paul (December 26, 2016). Using Privilege as Opportunity, Recognizing Privilege as Default. Retrieved from The Good Men Project.


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