The word “privilege” has become common in conversations about diversity, and it is often used in discussions of racial differences. But its meaning and impact in the context of how we relate to one another are actually much broader. “It’s important when we talk about privilege to understand that it applies across differences among people—from ability and skills to economics and religion. Race is really a minute part of the definition. It covers the gamut of what impacts people,” says Dr. Nichole Thompson, Founder and President of Gaitway Solutions, LLC, an innovative consulting firm that helps businesses and individuals solve problems with programs like training, accreditation and organization support, lecture series and more. “We tend to not see the world as it is. We see it as we are. We see it from our perspective, our viewpoint and place our assumptions on others,” Dr. Thompson said.
Particularly in business development, taking a thoughtful, intentional look at our differences allows us to work together more effectively. An exercise that can help is a Privilege Walk. This is a simple but significant activity that allows the participants to see where they have privilege in their lives—where they have access or opportunity—and to use that knowledge to develop awareness about themselves and how they can relate to others.
The Privilege Walk was created around 1989 and has been developed and adapted since that time. It has grown in popularity in the last five to 10 years as a form of teambuilding for companies to increase understanding among and about the employees they serve. A Privilege Walk experience will take about two hours, ideally, to allow time after the exercise for discussion among participants. A key question after a Privilege Walk is, “How do you feel and what do you want to do about it?”
“Understanding your privilege and how it impacts who you serve and who you lead can enhance your ability to serve all people and broaden your perspective when it comes to your leadership style,” Dr. Thompson said. “You may experience opportunities to help bring people up—to lean into your privilege. At the bottom line, people are at the core of the work we perform. Once we get people to understand what motivates them, it’s going to drive productivity.”
Path to Broader Perspectives
An ideal group for a Privilege Walk Experience is 20-30 people, including employees at various levels within a company, including workers, managers and “C-Suite” or executive-level leadership. The group should be large enough to allow for a variety of experiences among the group, and small enough to permit time for thoughtful discussion after the exercise. A Privilege Walk helps visually identify advantages and disadvantages.
Participants will form a line to start, and a facilitator will read various statements and ask people to take a step forward or backward if the statement applies to them. If the statement does not apply, they will remain in place. Sample statements may include:
- If one or both of your parents graduated from college, take one step forward.
- If you or your family never had to move due to financial inabilities, take one step forward.
- If you almost always feel comfortable with people knowing your sexual orientation, take one step forward.
- If you have ever been the only person of your race/ethnicity in a classroom or place of work, take one step back.
- If you almost always see members of your race, sexual orientation, religion and class widely represented on television in a positive manner, take one step forward.
“There is usually a constant flow of forward and backward. Those left in the front get to see where their privilege is. Things are privilege-driven, but it’s engrained in our culture, so we don’t often see it. It’s not to shame you; it’s to empower you and show how you can use your privilege to enhance the lives of those you work with. This may be through understanding someone else’s viewpoint, their biases or even their strengths and weaknesses, which ultimately impact their job performance.“ - Dr. Nichole Thompson, Founder and President of Gaitway Solutions, LLC
WALK THE WALK
For more information or to discuss scheduling a Privilege Walk Experience for your organization, contact Dr. Nichole Thompson at Nichole@gaitwaysolutions.com or 334-245-4296.