Opinion

Use Your Everyday Privilege to Help Others

Dolly Chugh

By Dolly Chugh

Each of us have some part of our identity which requires little attention to protecting oneself from danger, discrimination, or doltish humor.

By Dolly Chugh

I often forget I am straight.  I just don’t think about it much.  When asked what I did this weekend, or when setting family photos on my desk at work, I have no reason to wonder if what I say will make someone uncomfortable, or lead to a “joke” at my expense, or cause a co-worker to suddenly think I am attracted to them.  Our culture is set up for straight people like me to be ourselves with very little thought. But for some gay colleagues, a simple question about the weekend or a decision of how to decorate the workspace carries significant stress—how to act, who to trust, what to share.  A recent study found that 46% of LGBTQ employees are closeted in the workplace, for reasons ranging from fear of losing their job to being stereotyped.  Unlike me, a non-straight person is unlikely to have the privilege of going an entire day without remembering their sexual orientation.

This privilege of being able to forget part of who you are is not unique to straight people.  Each of us have some part of our identity which requires little attention to protecting oneself from danger, discrimination, or doltish humor. For example, in America, if you are white or Christian or able-bodied or straight or English-speaking, these particular identities are easy to forget.  It is just an ordinary way of being.  Ordinary privilege is ordinary because it blends in with the norms and people around us, and thus, is easily forgotten.

Just about every person in America has one form of this ordinary privilege or another. This is nothing to be ashamed of, or deny, even though it can often feel like an accusation. Ordinary privilege is actually an opportunity. Research repeatedly confirms that those with ordinary privilege have the power to speak up on behalf of those without it, and have particularly effective influence when they do. For so many of us looking for an opportunity to fight bigotry and bias in the workplace or in our broader culture, we may be missing the opportunity staring back at us in the mirror: using the ordinary nature of who we are as a source of extraordinary power.

Read the full Harvard Business Review article.

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Dolly Chugh is an Associate Professor of Management and Organizations.