Be honest, when you think of a leader in a business context – who do you think of? A white-haired, white man in a suit? If you did, then you’re not alone as sadly this has been, and to some-extent still is, very much the norm. But in reality, how much privilege is there in leadership? Let’s explore!
So makes all the important decisions?
White men still do. We’ve seen the pictures recently shared on social media of male-only boardrooms making incredibly important decisions. These decisions impact our world and our life, with no woman or other ethnicity or ability in sight… The male-only, white-only power play is, quite frankly, tiring. Although change is afoot, there is still great privilege in leadership throughout many sectors.
I bet we can all think of someone who has been promoted to a leadership role certainly not based on their ability. It could be based on length of service, the golfing relationship with the head honchos, the fact that they won’t dare have a baby or they were just a better ‘fit’. This message to the rest of the employees when this happens is a dangerous one. It can severely impact the overall business as it highlights a lack of values and ignites a deep sense of unfairness. And rightly so.
The tone from the top
Let’s face it, it comes from the top. Our government is bubbling over with male privilege and the messaging is blurred and unjust. It transpires that it’s perhaps not about working hard, being intelligent and having a good sense of self. But rather hobnobbing with the elite means you’ll get you a leg up (or over) when needed. For the majority, the messaging is frustrating and it’s incredibly worrying that the best people are definitely not doing the jobs at hand.
Business is doing marginally better
The business world does, to some degree, replicate this. However the big difference here is employees and the people climbing the leadership ladder. They won’t stand for someone leapfrogging over them to gain undeserved leverage. They’ll speak up, question and challenge their leadership. And if they aren’t satisfied, they’ll let their feet do the talking leaving these organisations exposed and vulnerable.
At what price comes change?
This is music to my ears as the generation coming through the ranks are confident and know their value. They’ll more often than not call out unfairness that comes with privilege. The stuffy old boys’ club is hopefully dying a death. And on its way out its being ridiculed for the load of archaic nonsense it actually is. I’m also expecting some comments from charming middle-aged white men now. They will still point out that “we have our challenges too” and “steady on there” but thankfully privilege is being called out more.
People like fairness and they like doing the right thing. Companies who still have this approach of rewarding class, privilege, education and standing are going to be called out. Social media can do a lot of damage in angry hands, and don’t forget Glassdoor too – how you treat people matters.
Down with this sort of thing
I really feel change does need to come from the top. I find it baffling that Johnson and his Eton mates are making decisions about the lives of people they have no understanding of. It’s dangerous and insulting, but sadly this is where we are currently. We should keep challenging where we can, keep calling it out and keep moving away from this old-fashioned norm. When the next generation close their eyes and think of a leader, let’s hope there’s not a middle-aged white man in sight.
I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic as there is so much privilege in leadership. There are many layers to this and it’s all well and good having a rant at the patriarchy, but we have to take a stand. It’s not enough just to push ourselves forward, but we have to act as allies for those who lack privilege or don’t have a voice.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JERRY COOKE—THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY