Diversity, equity, inclusion, and...power?

February 3, 2021
Jeff Couillard

Research clearly shows the benefits of increasing the amount of diversity, inclusion and equity within your organization and on your teams.

Higher levels of psychological safety, employee engagement, innovation and profitability, are just some of the significant benefits that teams and organizations can achieve by increasing diversity, inclusion, and equity - aside from the very real human benefit of improving the employee experience for any marginalized individuals.

What does Power have to do with this?

One of the most consistent (and persistent) underlying challenges of “DE&I” work within most organizations is the fragmentation of “diversity” when leaders and teams attempt to wrangle a multitude of important issues.

From race and ethnicity to religious views, sexual orientation, gender identity, cognitive diversity, physical and mental abilities, language, education, marital status, age…diversity comes in so many flavours and shapes that the conversation often becomes fragmented, unproductive and “stuck”.

Or, organizations will bring in a very narrow DE&I course, training module, or mandate, treating it like a box to tick instead of a meaningful conversation to engage in. “DE&I? Oh, yeah, we brought in [insert speaker] for a lunch and learn last year…”

It’s much more impactful to consider issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion as fundamental issues of Power than it is to try and work with them as individual and, often, competing issues.
The Ally Co.

Enter Status Power - a Power that has roots in how society views (and values) one group over another. It is a Power that is often reflective of majority stakeholder groups, and the characteristics and shared identity of that group.

Learn more about “Status Power” in this short video with Jeff Couillard (co-CEO and resident Right Use of Power expert at the ally co.). Prefer to read? You can scroll down for the full transcript.

As part of our offering, the ally co. provides learning and development opportunities for teams to discover how “power” impacts the work they do every day (including the work of improving diversity, equity and inclusion!). Our approach is to meet teams and organizations where they are at in their own journeys, so that we create the most impact we can together.

Learn more about power dynamics in the workplace

Here’s the transcript from the video.

OK, let's talk a little bit about status power. There's three different types of primary power and then we can talk about systemic power and structural power at a later point in time.

But status power is one of the core three, along with personal power and role power that gives us the ability to affect change, gives us influence in different environments and inside of different relationships. And status is a really important one for us to be examining because there's a big conversation in our organizations and in our communities right now about this very topic.

And a lot of us as leaders are wrestling with how do we come to terms with status power? How do we identify, how do we see it in relationships and how do we create space to have those types of conversations, those meaningful conversations where members of our communities who might be marginalized because of their statuses, so to speak, feel free and safe to be able to talk about that experience and in a way that people with power, with status, power.

I'm looking at you straight, white male. I'm one of them. Hands up. I've got lots of status power in this society, in the communities that I find myself in.

How can we make that conversation safe for us, safe for them as well?

And so let's talk a little bit about what status actually is. Status primarily is this idea of membership and membership in clubs, so to speak, membership in identity that we didn't choose.

I didn't choose to be white. I didn't choose to be male. I didn't choose to occupy this particular status, this group of statuses that I have.

And yet here I am. I have them right? It comes with it power. It comes with it, the ability to get my needs met in ways that other people can't. If I was a minority, whether race or ethnicity or language or gender identity, all of these things that we've kind of separated and are trying to deal with one at a time, you know, they're actually part and parcel of the same underlying phenomenon, which is status power.

And so the first thing that we need to do is actually just realize that and come to terms with the fact that we're not equal. This society has not created a level playing field for every member.

We give extra power to people with certain statuses and have already identified one of them or a couple of them, you know, gender identity and sexual orientation, the ethnicity. But language, you know, if you speak English as your primary, your first language in this society, that gives you extra power.

There are a lot of things we could talk about, mental and physical abilities. We could talk about things like military service. Or other roles that we might carry in society that have spillover status effects. You know, doctors is a great example, that's a role that people play in society. And we traditionally give them a little bit of extra clout for them in other ways so doctors can write letters to the editor. And because there's a doctor in front of their name it will maybe give it a bit more weight because we assume some things about doctors.

We give them extra status power because of the education and because of the position they hold in society.

And so obviously, status power can't stand on its own. It has to be connected back into the roles that we carry as well as our own personal power, how we show up and the charisma that we might have or communication abilities, all of these things.

But when we strip it all away and we just actually look at what are the components of power and how do they interact with each other, and then how does my power interact with your power, then we can start we can externalize the conversation a little bit from identity and feeling maybe that we're being attacked for our identity or we're being asked something that's unreasonable of us based on our identity that we can't change.

That would be frustrating, but equally frustrating to be someone who doesn't have status power and to find your way blocked in an organization that you can't make the advancements. You can't get the same kind of opportunities that other people have based on their statuses.

And so obviously still a complex discussion. But when we when we bring it down a layer, then we stop talking about the instances of how this power shows up in one group or another group, then are we in our organizations can come around the table and have a conversation about what is status power mean in this context?

Who has power, and why?

And can we equalize that a little bit?

We don't live in an equal society. As much as I would love to live in that society, all of the data shows that we don't. And our own lived experiences show that we don't actually live in that world. And until we do, we're going to have to have these types of tough conversations about how did you get your power and should you have as much power as you do based on these things like your gender or your ethnicity or your dominant language.

We have to have that conversation.

And that's a conversation that here at the ally co. we're really excited about because we've seen organizations have that conversation and create much more meaningful change and engagement for all members of the community than we see with a lot of the typical diversity and inclusion efforts that are out there.

And so if that's something that interests you, we'd obviously love to chat about it and stay tuned for a continuation of this series on power over the next couple of weeks.

Questions? Thoughts? Feedback? Whatever it is, we would love to hear from you!