Identities WITH Benefits

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If you don’t celebrate Christmas or want to participate in gift exchanges, what is it like for you at work from Thanksgiving until the New Year? If you celebrate Christmas and its traditions, do you think about your religious privilege at work?  


Would it be easier think about how different identities affect our lives if we stopped calling the advantages that a person gets because of their identities “privilege”? Would it be easier to work on these problems if we called them “benefits” or “facilitators”? For example, I benefit from being a Christian at work because most of the Christmas activities dont conflict with my religious beliefs, and I can afford to participate. Further, by participating in workplace Christmas activities, I benefit again because I am able to build relationships and stay top of mind for opportunities. 


Inclusion isn’t hard. It requires persistence, which is the hard part. Organizations struggle with discussions of benefits and drawbacks based on identity for one reason: “fatigue”. Fatigue is about feeling exhausted by the topic. The topic is perceived by some as a never-ending and inescapable criticism of the workplace and American culture. Resistance to change and framing it as negative are real problems. Second, fatigue represents a tendency to want to deal with an issue once and for all, which is not feasible on topics like inclusion. The nature of building an intentional organizational culture is like flossing your teeth: it needs to be a habit. Frankly, organizations must make a regular practice of values recalibration through repetitive communication and creating formal and informal practices to encourage employees at all levels to get on board or depart. Operationalizing an intentionally inclusive culture means making making maintaining a strong culture a key focus of management.


Yes, inclusion efforts fail because of fatigue, but there’s another reason why they struggle: rejection. Some people don’t see the issue as real or urgent. The reasons for rejecting the legitimacy of the issue is varied; however, your organization can avoid being bogged down by differing ideologies by declaring its own values and creating a process to evaluate every aspect of the organization through the lens of maintaining fidelity with those values and being consistent. For example, take the current “Christmas Holiday Season”. If your organization values inclusion, what’s your process to make sure all employees, no matter their faith practice, don’t feel pressured to participate in your organization’s Christmas traditions? How are you communicating that message to first level supervisors and managers because those leaders have the greatest impact on employee engagement and retention? Are you taking steps to make sure that employees who don’t participate in the annual gift exchange or attend the  luncheon have other opportunities to build relationships so that they don’t suffer a penalty? Do you celebrate or acknowledge holidays that aren’t based in Christianity? Throughout the rest of the year, are you planning team-building activities and consistently asking, “Who is being left out or overlooked or would have a hard time participating?”


The other side of not asking the inclusion question is that “business as usual” or typical standards of professionalism tend to favor white, middle class, heterosexual, and Christian norms. This is even true of organizations dominated by people of color. Additionally, if an organization maintains these norms, it is asking its employees to cover parts of who they are in order to come to work. 


Consider this: how would a change in your identity based on any of the following characteristics change your relationships at work? Is there a change in one characteristic that you think would impact your work life more than others?


  1. Race
  2. Religion
  3. Heterosexism 
  4. Socioeconomic Class
  5. Ableism
  6. Non-immigrant
  7. Beauty
  8. Age
  9. Relationship/Couple
  10. Gender, including cisgender (Cisgender means you identify with or agree with the gender you were assigned at birth. Essentially, based on your sex organ matches, your caregivers put you in a box, and you agree with that box).


Now, imagine knowing the extent to which your various identities are embraced or rejected at your job and adjusting everything about yourself to fit in on top of doing your job. This cognitive load of covering undermines engagement and creativity and primes employees for turnover. Essentially, the greater the number of identities WITHOUT benefits that an employee has, the greater the chances are that employee will quit, have to work harder than their peers to excel, and manage unfair circumstances. So, what are the identities with benefits at your organization?

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