Despite so much focus, I’ve always been giving on the topic of diversity; I seldom put myself own the spotlight for my own status of privileged person. I’m male, white, taller than average. These elements alone are, even today, a source of privilege. I was born in a middle-class family, in a country, Italy, where Education and Healthcare are free for all. My mother is German, which meant that I’d learnt a second language as I grew up, and I’ve been travelling abroad since my childhood. I was given my first computer aged 14 (although it could only do BASIC), and I had my first email address in 1994. All this doesn’t mean that my life has always been easy. But in many of the turns of my life, for sure the absence of impediment, as Amaechi defines privilege, has had a unique role.
Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
. It was the right moment to reflect how, as a male, we are privileged on many choices we make. We can go out at any time of day and night, mostly without worrying about our safety. We can wear more or less what we want, the highest risk being that of meeting the puzzling eye of by walkers—just two examples of the challenges that women face in two straightforward choices every day.
Living near a border, I often cross the line between Switzerland and Italy. If the person driving in front of me has just a darker shade of skin colour, the odds of them being stopped are hugely higher than me. Way too often we see these as examples of bias. They are. But they are also examples of privileges for all those people that receive the positive effects of biases.
To solve these issues, we need to start by accepting that recognising our own privilege is part of the solution; as well as the willingness to act upon it.
To understand why you probably have to experience situations in which impediment is all that you have in front. A few years ago, I was part of a recruiting process for an exciting role in a Fashion company. I had done the classical three steps interviews and was convened for a call with the HR Business Partner to discuss details that could have led to the offer. During the call she was very open and positive about me getting my role, then she asked a few admin questions, including if I would have moved with my family. There I mentioned that I was in a Civil Union with my male partner. What had been a warm and relaxed conversation up until that moment, quickly became a nervous checklist matching. I’ve never heard back from them.
This case does not change the fact that I am privileged; I want to stress it once more. But it has been a huge reality check in what it means finding obstacles that are linked to who you are and not for something you have done.
This awareness mixes beautifully with another eye-opening reading I’m doing: The Tyranny of Merit by Michael Sandel
. Despite its specific focus on the US culture, this book raises important questions on the fallacy of Meritocracy as a redistributive principle, precisely because it doesn’t do anything to avoid personal privileges
Equal Opportunity is not the only answer, because if you’re piling up impediment after impediment, how can you have the same opportunities as others?
Privilege doesn’t make our lives easy. But understanding it is critical in the way we approach each topic of diversity, also in organisations. That’s why I genuinely believe that to deliver real equality at work
, we, the white male
above all, need to do a lot more in terms of allyship and active support for every person that comes from less privileged backgrounds. And we need to recognise that not only the more visible aspects of diversity need to be taken into consideration but also the less visible, such as economic background, education and so on.
One of the biggest learnings I’ve had in recent years has been a job experience programme we launched for disadvantaged young people. I have to admit, for most of my life, I have thought that if you want to find a job, you can find one. That experience has changed this idea completely. If you come from the wrong address in town, you won’t get a job. If your parents are in jail, you don’t get a job. If you don’t have the money to get on public transport, you don’t get a job. I could now tell the story of how great some of those people were at work, but I would fall in the meritocratic trap to try to justify the choice.
Because, ultimately, we had to make the deliberate choice of hiring among the unprivileged. Turning away, probably, persons that were better off in terms of merit, but with much less impediment in their lives.