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Privilege in a Pandemic

How to acknowledge your privilege, support struggling colleagues, and use these lessons to create a more inclusive “after.”

The coronavirus pandemic has been called a great equalizer, but the last nine months have proven that to be false. A virus attack is certainly unswayed by politics, borders, or personality, but calling COVID-19 an “equalizer” disregards the myriad inequities exacerbated by changes the crisis has wrought.

In other words: This suuuucks. For everyone. And it’s harder for some people than it is for others.

At Modern Tribe, we’re grateful the remote nature of our company allows us to work from home. Many people, including our family members and friends, have lost their jobs or do not have the ability to work remotely right now—grocery store clerks, bus drivers, delivery service providers, healthcare workers and more.

The pandemic has got us thinking about how we can be better connected to others during this time, including our own team members. Feeling the same? Amid the suuuuck, there are some great opportunities to support each other—now and in The After Times. (That sounds more apocalyptic than we mean it to…)

Recognizing your privilege

Several channels on our company-wide Slack operate as welcome spaces to surface discussion on subjects such as privilege and how our company can be more diverse and inclusive. A recent post on one of these channels from Carly, our agency director, is worth sharing. Here’s an excerpt:

You may also have more privilege than your co-workers at Modern Tribe. At its core, privilege is a set of benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group, and it is often invisible to those who have it. People can get defensive when someone mentions their privilege, but doing this means forgetting that privilege is simply a system of advantages granted to all people in a given group.

The post included the following list, leveraged from Better Allies, a coaching platform that helps businesses create inclusive, engaging workplaces. (Pro-tip: We really like the Better Allies weekly newsletter. Founder Karen Catlin shares five thoughtful ideas for being a better ally each week.)

Your pandemic privilege may include:

  • You are employed.
  • You have a quiet room to work in.
  • You have a desk and a decent chair.
  • There are enough computers in your home for everyone who needs one and adequate internet bandwidth for multiple people to connect.
  • You live in a home where you are not at risk of violence—physical, psychological, or emotional.
  • You enjoy spending time at home.
  • If you have young children, a partner looks after them while you work.
  • If you have school-aged children, a partner supervises their distance learning activities.
  • You are not interrupted by other household members while you are working.
  • You can get outside for fresh air and exercise daily.
  • You can afford to purchase extra groceries to have on hand.
  • Your household income is sufficient to pay the bills.
  • Your household income hasn’t suffered as a result of COVID-19.
  • You, your family and your close friends are healthy.
  • Nobody in your household is in a high-risk group (infant, immunocompromised).

Ideas for offering support

While acknowledging these points of privilege is beneficial to you individually, they also can be the foundation from which you reach out to pull others up with you. If you’d like to empathize with and support colleagues who are facing different challenges during the pandemic, why not:

  • Set up a social one-on-one. Reach out to have a Zoom coffee hangout with a struggling team member.
  • Get some perspective. Work isn’t the be all, end all. Invite them to an after-hours social Slack event. Modern Tribe favorites include happy hours, group running and game nights. (Have you seen this gorg digital version of Scattergories yet?)
  • Be flexible. Try to accommodate a meeting time outside of normal hours and encourage more asynchronous communication to be respectful of everyone’s schedule shakeups.
  • Simply ask. “How can I help?” is a magical phrase at this moment.
  • Check in. Try to remind yourself that not everyone will speak up when they’re struggling. Check in with your teammates and coworkers occasionally, especially the ones who might seem quiet(er) during these changing times.

Start discussions for the future

So much is unclear about The Future of Work™ right now, but it’s undeniable that things will never be “back to normal.” Let’s embrace the positives of that fact. Namely: More and more companies are recognizing the value of remote work, and not just because fewer people in the office can help contain the spread of anything biologically nefarious.

“Any major company, especially in tech, will tell you that one of its top business concerns is a lack of talent. Attracting and retaining good people is critical,” wrote principal analyst Carolina Milanesi in a Fast Company editorial with a title that says it all: “Working from Home is Great for Diversity. Let’s Keep it Going.”

“Remote work can open the door to talent pools that are more diverse in three key areas: gender, accessibility, and race,” Milanesi continues. “[Companies] should purposefully use remote work to foster a more diverse workforce, because remote work is good for diversity, and diversity is great for business.”

Regardless of whether your company becomes a fully remote convert, this is (fingers crossed) a once in a generation opportunity to rethink everything. How can you take your considerations around privilege and translate them into inclusive practices that benefit your people and your business? Put yourself in your team’s shoes office chair—how can you help long term? They’ll be glad you took the time to ask.