Awareness of Privilege

It was a straight long road to run on. It was Sunday, the day of my ‘long run’. I had to go down the stretch turn at a particular point and come back where I started. Cruising along until the time that I had to turn. I quite didn’t realise that the return stretch was quite a lesson on ‘awareness of privilege’!

For it was when I turned, I realised that I had the wind backing me all the while I was cruising. I wasn’t seeing any of it, leave alone acknowledging that it was making a difference to my ease of cruise. But after making the turn, I was expending the same amount of effort and having far little to show compared to my run in the other direction. I cursed the wind.

As my body stabilised and as my muscles started working harder, I realised there was no point in cursing the wind. The support that the tailwind had offered me I had appropriated to myself and my capabilities. The wind had remained the same all through!

Headwind and tailwinds are invisible. The headwinds are felt more because we are up against it. As I finished the run I realised that this applies to life as well. We are hardly aware of several of the privileges that we are bestowed with, let alone crediting it with playing a part in success.

Earlier this week, a video on youtube held my attention. Take a minute to go over it. It is a simple yet powerful demonstration of what ‘privilege’ can mean and the material difference it can make.

To be aware of this privilege can be a great start.  I was shooting the breeze with someone who requests anonymity. After three hours and two brimfuls of coffee, we agreed on few foundations.

Some foundations emerged as the coffee coursed our veins. Being born into privilege didn’t mean we didn’t earn our spurs. Or that we were bad people. We were clear that we couldn’t undo our childhoods or born the way we were born. Not that we intended to. Nor did we want to dismiss our achievements or the hard work that contributed to getting us where we are now.  We were proud of what we had accomplished and were energised by what we wanted to do in the future. We still wanted to shoot for the moon and perhaps change the world too.

Accepting that privilege that the system bestowed on us, also contributed to where we are was a good start, we concluded. A modest start. But an important one at that.  What does an ” ‘accusation’ of being privileged do to you?”, was a question we asked each other and examined for a long time.  We had to examine the discomfort with examining the question too.

What more could we do? It was a long conversation and these were our top three conclusions. A call to action for ourselves, so to speak.

a. Examine the day

Between the two of us, we decided to examine our days and weeks. Deciding to sift through random events and uncover each other’s mental models was a natural consequence.   We sought to examine the context of the content of what others spoke or acted and how it impacted us.     Between the two of us, we decided that we would poke each other with questions that are curiosity laden.  We must get somewhere with that.

b. Examine the voices within

Like the wind behind my back that I perhaps would have known better if I had been present to it. There I was coasting in the success that was coming my way. An examination of the ‘why’ is useful.  Reflection and journaling can be a super place to start. “Once in a while is ok”, I proposed. And the gingerly proposal was met with a violent head nod in agreement.

c. A change of context

Privilege and the lack of it become apparent in different contexts. To change contexts, to travel, to work with people of different classes, to sit down and shoot the breeze with someone we usually will not, and several other things of the same ilk were going to be useful. That is one more area we will choose to examine.

We need to understand each other better for us to live rich meaning-laden lives. How better than understanding our contexts and our views of the world to get started. How better than counting our blessings and crediting that wind behind our backs as well.

One more thing we decided on: Share our resolve. Talk about it. Blog about it. Whatever. And this is the first step towards building awareness of my privilege!

Women in Leadership

The invite from Gurprriet and YSC to a discussion on titled “Cracking the Code” – Women in leadership came at the most opportune time. For one, the decibel levels on the topic have been forever rising and for another, here was an opportunity to clarify a few thought strains that were on, in my mind, that needed resolution.


All of them didn’t get resolved, but the morning was well spent. Listening to both the YSC team and the case study presented by HSBC. Each provided good pointers to explore further.

First off, here are the myths that the research by YSC sought to bust.

  • Women don’t aspire to senior leadership roles
  • Women don’t stick it out to make it to the very top
  • Childrearing stops women getting to the top
  • Women don’t get to the top because they lack confidence
  • Women lack the leadership qualities needed at the top
  • Women don’t have the networks that open doors to the top
  • Senior women leaders pull up the career ladder behind them
  • High potential programmes are fast-tracking women
  • Formal flexible working arrangements ease women’s route to the top
  • The business case for gender diversity is working

Am sure you have heard of these, or variations of these stated not as myths but rather assertions of the truth!  I say “sure’, not as a cliched expression but from personal experience of having heard these and statements of this ilk many times over before. Now there is some research that seeks to dispel these myths.  Before you get all too excited : the data for the research is UK based. But, this can serve as a huge direction pointer to your thought.  The report is here. Obviously the people that you would need to connect up and understand more are the folks from YSC.

Am writing this post to kind of ‘work out loud’ on what sits on my head now.  The TOP five thoughts, if you will, that stays with me even as existing thought got refined and newer ones emerged. Let me know what you think and lets keep the conversation going.

#1. At the heart of it all is a topic that I am quite passionate about : Conversation. There are several layers to conversations and there are hardly any topic that escape its reach! Gender Diversity, is a topic that centres around conversation.
Trouble brews at every level. At a very basic level, yes the space where small talk occupies a big deal of airtime, sometimes see male managers and leaders in an organisation, fumble. “I cannot hang out with her as I hang out with the boys”. “What do I talk to her about, shopping?”. These and comments like these run amok. At another level, far deeper conversations where pointed feedback needs to be taken and received, the discomfort gets only further accentuated. As simple as it sounds, conversations and comfort with either sex can be a deceptive deal breaker!

#2. Recognition (& accepting) that men and women bring a different work rhythm and dynamic to work is a great start, relative to odious blanket pronouncements of ‘there is no difference” etc. Yes indeed, men and women can deliver great results in equal measure. But the tone, tenor and rhythm of achieving these can be fundamentally very different. To stand up, recognize and state that these differences exist, is a great start to uncovering the biases that prevail in us. In most cases, unconscious biases. Valuing such differences and leveraging it for better forms the principle edifice of gender intelligence. That is an area of work that needs to pervade across line managers.

#3. If there is one particular interface that can make or break an organisation it is the interface between the line manager and the direct report! Irrespective of what the policies state and programs hope to achieve, it is the line manager who can make, break or enhance the work and the workplace. If, for example, fostering gender diversity is an important agenda, every line manager’s part is key. Infact, more important than fanciful programs and launches that are sometimes so woefully ‘targeted’ at ‘women’

#4. An organisation can make all the programs and policies. But what will ultimately get done is what the leaders do. ‘What you do speaks so loudly that I cant hear what you are saying’, must be remembered. Especially by those in senior leadership roles. Role modeling of whats ok and whats not ok can easily set the norms for functioning. Several leaders lose the plot with inappropriate comments and inconsistent behavior.

#5. A business case for diversity is often presumed to exist. There obviously is research that points in this direction. But unless a contextual business case is evolved, obvious ones of ‘research proves that men and women working together produce better result..’ etc will continue to sound remote. is seen as distant. Contextual business cases however needs to be evolved, in my opinion, by every organisation. Several pointers & papers (including the one by YSC ) point to making a ‘personal case for diversity’ by the CEO as a great start point.  A good mix of personal leadership and a sound contextual business case can go a long distance.