You Don’t Have to Be a White Man to Have Privilege

I recently read a Quartz article entitled “Until I was a man, I had no idea how good men had it at work,” written by Thomas Page McBee. This piece reinforces other anecdotes (here, here, here, and here) from trans men and women on how they are treated differently — and how their skills and behaviors are interpreted differently — based on their gender presentation. If you have a moment to read these articles, they are truly fascinating studies in gender dynamics, marginalized identities, and relative privilege.

Yes, I’m Marginalized…

As a cisgender woman, I’ll never experience life as a man. McBee’s article represents an interesting thought experiment for me. It’s both exciting and infuriating to imagine the feedback-identity loop that might exist for me if I were a man.

…And I Am Also Privileged

Still, I know that my whiteness comes with similar (or at least corollary) benefits not afforded to people of color in general, and to black people in particular. I receive the benefit of the doubt in any number of situations because of my white skin.

There are still more aspects of my identity that afford me access to safety and benefits not readily available to others:

  • No visible disability
  • Married to a man
  • Born into the middle class
  • Intelligent (luck) and college-educated (luck and hard work)
  • Don’t have a serious food allergy
  • Cisgender
  • Not on the Autism spectrum (although I’m not sure I qualify as “neurotypical” due to the ambiguity in that term)
  • Have economic advantages others do not

Here’s How I Find Balance

For me, thinking of all they ways I might be marginalized because of my gender is exhausting and disheartening.

Instead, I use my energy to find ways I can share some of the benefits I receive but did not earn.

For example, I strive to:

  • Educate myself about the experiences of people of color so I can recognize and challenge both systemic and interpersonal racism. I may never get good enough at this, but I keep working at it because it’s important.
  • Look for opportunities to make environments more accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Ask people about food allergies and other dietary restrictions before I order food for a meeting.
  • Respect that neurodivergent individuals (and others) may process information differently or struggle to maintain eye contact during conversations.
  • Remember that my words matter, because people should be respected everywhere. The people whom I’ve disrespected may not be physically in the room with me, but they may be very much in the hearts of my colleagues.

We each have so much to offer. And we each benefit in ways that others don’t. When we can extend those benefits to others, we demonstrate leadership, and we get the very best that everyone around us has to offer. Learn more with my book Network Beyond Bias: Making Diversity a Competitive Advantage for Your Career.

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