In Part 1 of this blog, I introduced white male privilege as a key leadership challenge. Last week’s Part 2 blog offered examples of “self-directed” actions – steps leaders can take to confront their own ignorance, complacency, and complicity. In this week’s blog, I’ll explore “outward-directed” actions that we can take to foster equal access to opportunity, power and resources for everyone.

With privilege — earned or unearned — comes responsibility. What are these responsibilities and how do we put them into action in our workplaces and communities? Here are some examples that sound simple but are not easy to put into consistent practice.

Shine the light on inequity and exclusion. Decide what is not OK with you. Raise questions about whose voices get heard, what gets labeled as normal and valuable. Actively identify who is and is not at the table for important conversations. Notice and call out microaggressions – statements and actions that reflect indirect, often unintentional yet painful discrimination against people of color, women, and other marginalized groups. Take responsibility for your own participation in these actions.

Take a stand. It’s not enough to point out inequity. Challenge inequity within the very system that rewards with privilege. This means putting something valuable- like status or approval from others- at risk. Sometimes challenging inequity simply means naming it out loud. Sometimes taking a stand means refusing to participate in or perpetuate a rigged or unjust system. Other times it means actively advocating for new policies and practices.

Actively sponsor members of marginalized groups. As a close colleague reminded me, “Mentoring is not enough. Mentors give advice, and talk is cheap. People from disadvantaged groups benefit from having an active sponsor who advocates for them when they’re not in the room, someone who amplifies their voices and ensures that they get high-profile assignments, someone who spends their social capital on them in concrete ways.”

Practice good followership. Sometimes the best way to be an ally is from the front but often times it’s by standing alongside or behind others who must be the primary voice in advocating for their interests. Pay attention to your defaults. Notice any propensity to speak first, interrupt, state an opinion in declarative terms. If you are someone who is privileged, oftentimes the most powerful thing you can do is to volunteer to do whatever supports the goals of others.

This blog series is my attempt to begin a conversation about what it means to live and lead as a white man in today’s America. While I have primarily referenced race inequity, I want to be clear that leaders who possess privilege and power must stand for freedom and fairness for all who are disadvantaged and excluded. Those efforts will be imperfect. White leaders committed to this work will stumble over blind spots and assumptions. But by having the courage and conviction to pursue this work we can, together, strive to bring about a world that works for everyone.

What is the public stand that you will take? What source of comfort, safety, or advantage are you willing to risk to stand for fairness and freedom for all?

Photo Credit: Justin S. Campbell

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