Discussions about privilege in America can often be divisive. Terms like “white privilege” can create an us-versus-them mentality. Using an inclusive approach inspired by Organization & Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC™) can help us navigate these sensitive topics to foster understanding and unity.

Defining Rank and Privilege

Rank is an identifiable position within a hierarchy. It is frequently associated with roles and is visible and known. Rank can be influenced by systemic bias and appears in various forms depending on one's position in social or organizational structures.

Privilege is a special advantage or benefit enjoyed by an individual or group. It can be unconscious or conscious, and it typically goes unnoticed by those who have it.

The Impact of Unconscious Rank and Privilege

When rank and privilege are used without awareness, they can seem disrespectful, uncaring, or even abusive. This can cause resentment and a desire to reclaim power. For example, a leader who dominates conversations without seeking input may become the subject of gossip. This is an attempt by the team to reclaim power.

Leaders should acknowledge their position of dominance and invite input. For example, they can say, “I realize I am talking a lot, and I want to hear your input.” This simple recognition and invitation can transform the dynamic, creating a more inclusive and respectful environment.

Historical Context

History is full of examples where people have been oppressed by those with rank and privilege. Movements for human rights, same-gender marriage, and racial equity shows how marginalized groups challenge the status quo to create change. These examples highlight the importance of recognizing and addressing rank and privilege dynamics.

Reflecting on Rank and Privilege

  1. Self-Reflection: Reflect on your own rank and privilege. Consider the roles you hold and how they might give you advantages or disadvantages. Ask yourself:
    • What privileges do I enjoy that I might take for granted?
    • How does my rank affect my interactions with others?
  2. Awareness: Be aware of how rank and privilege appear in your organization and communities. Notice who speaks the most in meetings, whose opinions are valued, and who might be overlooked.
  3. Empathy: Practice empathy by considering the experiences of those with less rank or privilege. Listen actively and validate their experiences.

Facilitating Team Conversations

  1. Create Safe Spaces: Ensure team members feel safe to share their experiences and perspectives without fear of judgment or retribution.
  2. Use Inclusive Language: Frame conversations to emphasize shared goals and mutual respect. Avoid charged terms that might alienate participants - remember, language matters.
  3. Acknowledge and Validate: Encourage team members to acknowledge their rank and privilege and validate others' experiences through open discussions and reflective exercises.
  4. Invite Input: Leaders should seek input from all team members, especially those who might benefit from having time to process and reflect. Explicitly invite comments and ensure everyone has a chance to speak and/or contribute in a more comfortable format, such as following up one-on-one or via email after a group meeting.
  5. Educate and Train: Provide training on how rank and privilege impact workplace dynamics.

Moving Forward

Change begins with the language we use. By changing how we talk about rank and privilege, we can create more inclusive and respectful workplaces and communities. Using the ORSC™ approach helps us recognize and address power dynamics skillfully, improves team cohesion, and fosters a culture of inclusion and belonging. Reflecting on our rank and privilege and facilitating inclusive conversations will move us towards a more equitable and harmonious society.