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To all Those Who Don’t Believe in Diversity and Inclusion. Is Your Privilege Part of the Problem?

Since formally commencing my (hopefully long) career in D&I, I’ve faced into a number of critics who simply don’t believe in D&I, nor do they believe it is a necessary endeavour to advance our workplaces and society.

The main rationale I hear off the back of these comments is usually because that individual doesn’t believe that there are systemic barriers holding certain groups back from progressing professionally or societally. It’ll come as no surprise that these people are often white individuals - who exist within their gender binaries – whose careers are progressing with no perceived barriers. There’s a perception that the current systems are fair and any deviation to D&I is merely a tick-box exercise that can be largely ignored because ‘barriers don’t exist here’.

I’m sure many of us have encountered these individuals at various points in our personal and professional lives; or we may be those very individuals that still need convincing that D&I is a worthy pursuit. What seems to be the consensus amongst those who critique D&I is ‘I don’t see it, it doesn’t impact me, therefore it doesn’t exist’. To which my response would be, does gravity not exist simply because we cannot see it?

Ah - I hear you cry - but you can feel gravity, so it exists. Yes, you can, much like many people feel various nuances of systemic oppression based merely on their physical and/ or metaphysical characteristics because our societies are geared towards the advancement of those who have privilege at the expense of those who do not.  

This privilege doesn’t mean you have never faced into difficulties, nor does it mean that you haven’t worked hard to get to where you have in your career. What this privilege means is that you haven’t experienced certain barriers because of your race, or your gender identity, physical or mental disability, or your sexual orientation, or socioeconomic background. It’s important that we’re mindful of the various aspects of privilege we have when we discuss the relevance of D&I; we must ask ourselves ‘do I think my workplace/ society is fair simply because I don’t personally experience any barriers? What barriers may my colleagues or those around me be facing into?’

Whichever side you fall on, I’m here to suggest that we all need to start looking outside of our own experiences and planting our feet firmly in the shoes of those who do face into barriers every single day. When making assumptions about the necessity of D&I, think about people from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19; or single parents who are working two jobs to try and put food on the table for their children; or individuals who can’t get out of bed in the morning because they are paralysed by their depression; or the countless women and women of colour who are on the active pursuit of top-jobs across the globe in the face of ‘boys clubs’ and derogatory comments left, right and centre. 

We need D&I because our workplaces and societies currently aren’t equitable and if you can’t see that then you are part of the problem.

 

Elizabeth Pollitt