“The Post Office scandal screams of relative privilege and clearly demonstrates how UK industry is sitting on a ticking time bomb if companies do nothing to address it.”
That’s the view of leading think tank and diversity, equity and inclusion organisation, Belonging Pioneers, whose work and ongoing research is now shining a major spotlight on privilege in relation to systemic corporate attitudes, discriminatory cultural behaviours, and the need for UK employers to make rapid and significant changes.
Research evidence collated by the organisation shows that out of 40 companies surveyed, a staggering 92% of employees have or are currently experiencing relative privilege at work, with 96% stating that it is also used to gain clear advantage. Approximately 83% of employees said they felt undervalued or demotivated when privilege is used against them.
58% of those asked thought privilege was mostly unconscious or unintentional on the part of their employer. However, 42% also said that privilege was used intentionally, was embedded in the workplace, and was very much a negative aspect of our culture.
Furthermore, 76% of respondents thought privilege was having a negative impact on an organisation’s overall performance, with 14% believing the impact to be high. This is leading directly to a loss of productivity, reduced motivation and wavering staff loyalty, and for UK business leaders, employers and industry groups, such results should be an urgent wake-up call.
Ishreen Bradley, Chief Inspiration Officer at Belonging Pioneers, explained, “Relative privilege in the workplace is often at the very core of business activities where uneducated beliefs, outdated ways of working, bad judgement and toxic behaviours can go unchallenged through fear, denial, acceptance or an uneven power balance. The Post Office scandal is, unfortunately, a very fitting, timely yet perfect example of ‘privilege eruption’ whereby corporate bad practices and failures to address the relative privilege that is deep rooted in these organisations, has come to the fore and had catastrophic results on both sides. Sadly, for the postmasters and mistresses, the extremely negative and long-lasting effects are now very clear for all to see.
“Even more recent developments demonstrate how privilege is continuing to play out, despite the global spotlight, negative attention and reputational exposure that the various organisations involved have received. The less than satisfactory compensation offer given to former postmaster, Alan Bates, which he has called ‘offensive’ and since rejected, again is steeped in attitudes of unwavering power and privilege on the part of those ‘higher up the system’.
“In a wider sense, and whether done knowingly or unknowingly, UK businesses must now wake up. Companies really need to better educate themselves and start discussions internally around this specific issue in order to rebalance relative privilege and mitigate against eruption. Ignoring this problem will only risk serious consequences and therefore it cannot be underestimated.”
Relative privilege is mostly perceived and acknowledged as being ‘someone’ (or a body or institution) that possesses and uses factors such as status, power, beliefs, wealth, race, gender, ability and more to gain advantage at multiple levels over others. In business, it is not seen as unique or separate to an organisation’s culture.
Furthermore, and often surprisingly, firms who consider themselves to have positive and progressive diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) policies in place can still demonstrate high levels of relative privilege in operational and day-to-day activities. It is estimated that less than 30% of businesses have implemented a value-driven, integrated approach to privilege in existing strategies.
The forthcoming ‘Balancing the Scales’ event (Wednesday 21 February), hosted by Belonging Pioneers at The Leadenhall Building in London, is hoping to attract many company representatives from across the country’s public and private sector, as well as third sector organisations, to learn, participate and engage in such discussion.
Ishreen added, “Companies may believe they have the correct policies in place, but specifically addressing privilege is often missed due to a lack of understanding and awareness. We need to encourage deeper thought and wider collaborative discussion across all industries, and get a very open conversation going to help deliver change.
“Putting it bluntly, companies identified as being more diverse and inclusive are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors, so aside from having a responsibility to staff to deliver equity and social governance, why would employers not take this matter more seriously? It’s a catalyst which could also have huge financial benefits in terms of growth, increased productivity and greater staff retention.
“Embracing inclusivity is an ongoing, proactive process for individuals and businesses alike, but by acknowledging that relative privilege and bias can exist in many different ways, UK organisations can make huge strides forward. By opening up this dialogue now, they can start the journey to become better employers and do the right thing.”
The Balancing the Scales event includes a host of keynote speakers and leaders in their field from sports, law and construction amongst others.