I went to a talk for business leaders last week, and the first speaker was a 63 year old tall white man.
He had moved around a lot when he was a kid, then he detailed all of the jobs that he had, and how each time he was offered a new job, he had no experience in that job, but magically all of these people believed he could do it. He got into higher and higher positions. Until he ended his long, rambling story (which no one asked for BTW) by complaining about the 11 unit condos that he had built were not going to get rented in the housing market collapse of 2008. And I just sat there….AMAZED.
That the whole time he was going through his working life, he was treated as an expert, authority, even promoted to managing director, without training, an advanced degree, or anything that would be considered mandatory for someone from a marginalized community.
He complained about his privilege of being a landowner of multiple properties, something most people in my generation (and in the sector) will not have the option to do.
I sat next to another millennial and person of color at this event and I could hear him sighing.
The world he talked about- did not, and could not ever apply to us.
The fact that the organizer, (another white man) gave the mic to a guy who had never even run his own business, and told him to just… ramble to us…again spoke to the privilege that he had been used to his whole life.
The level of unconscious white male privilege in his talk, and in the talk after, was staggering.
There was literally nothing any of us could take from his talk except “Try new things that you have no experience in, and it will all work out for you.” And it wouldn’t work out for us.
Recently I was reading a twitter thread by Sunny Moraine that spoke to this very problem.
This problem is systemic.
We want to have what previous generations took for granted. Owning a house. Low-cost education. Families. Health insurance. Retirement. But we see this isn’t going to happen for us.
We may never be able to afford to retire. We are getting paid 1970 wages while everything is 2018 prices. So after groceries and bills, we certainly can’t afford these markers of adulthood that Sunny Moraine talks about.
Addressing unconscious bias- who gets to be boss- who gets to make mistakes, and who doesn’t.
Recently I’ve been working with a woman from a marginalized community who is in her 30s. We are working on resumes and cover letters together.
She has 10+ years experience in her field and is getting grossly underpaid. We are working on trying to get her another job, but we keep running into people expecting her to have every single thing listed on a long list of prerequisites, such as an advanced college degree.
When I think about her story, how much she has had to overcome, and I think about this man’s story, I want to tell hiring managers to pay attention to unconscious bias.
I had a chance to tell hiring managers this in September. Before the session started, I asked people if they thought they were biased. 100% of people I talked with felt like they had no bias. We explored unconscious bias, privilege, microaggressions, and conversations people could have to interrupt oppression.
Then I asked the group to do an exercise where they interrupted oppression.
Nobody actually did the exercise I asked them to do. They discussed ways they might be biased at their offices instead, and came up with some very minor ways they might be biased. Nothing to do with race or ability, the focus of the session. They did come up with class and gender based discrimination examples, which was a place to start!
“We all have privilege. Look into your areas of privilege. Figure out what they are, and use them for good. Acknowledge the advantages you have and use them to restore equity whenever you see bias. You are not powerless against institutional or unconscious bias.”
If you want to learn more about unconscious bias, check out Jay Smooth’s videos on youtube, or Derek Johnson’s books. Here’s an interview with him.