Accepting our privilege

Cold, wet and dark aptly describes the winter's day yesterday as I got on the train back home from my day's work in downtown Sydney. My animated conversation with a first time tourist to Australia was interrupted with an announcement over the train's PA system that my suburb and the surrounding areas had a power outage from the storm and that there was a complete  blackout which had plunged my station and streets into total darkness and to watch our step as we disembark and make our way home. 

I told the tourist, I wasn't really looking forward to walking back home on a long, dark, wet stretch of road and that my husband was stuck at work so I had no one to pick me up. To which she then asked me if I would be safe walking home alone in the dark?  And in that instance I realised my comments came from a place of privilege where the concern for personal safety didn't even cross my mind.  The thought of getting into a cold dark home with no warm dinner bothered me more than walking alone. Privilege is what you have when you don't acknowledge, accept or appreciate a problem because it is not a problem to you personally. 

In how many parts of the world is it possible for a woman to walk back home alone on a long, dark and desolate stretch of road in torrential rain and not be concerned about personal safety? I have forgotten what it is to be cautious, alert or anxious when my young daughters or I walk home alone in the dark. 

Acknowledging this privilege allows me to show gratitude for what life has gifted me. On my walk back home, I realised all the privileges that life has afforded me. Here are a few: 

  1. Growing up in India in a Hindu family, which meant we had the privilege of being in the majority. 
  2. Growing up in a safe and loving environment. 
  3. Not having very dark skin (serious privilege in India, not as privileged as being extremely fair but a privilege nonetheless)
  4. A good education that afforded me fluency in English which resulted in acquiring a job that took me all over the world. I suspect not being very dark also played a role in acquiring that role.
  5. Moving to Australia 
  6. Having a supportive husband 
  7. Not having a disability or a handicap (My siblings might disagree. They have called me mad for a long time)

And I could go on and on. The point is none of these privileges are a reflection of my effort. Even accumulating my own wealth was possible because of other privileges. My parents afforded me a great education that multiplied my chances of success. My husband's support meant I could be a mum, a wife, a career woman and a change agent. 

But what good is a privilege, if it's not going towards helping others? There is nothing more frustrating in this world than lack of empathy from privileged people. It irks me most when privileged people, do not acknowledge their privilege or refuse to accept how being a part of the system benefits them even without their asking. It's not any one's fault to be born privileged but not accepting the fact that you are benefiting from it, to me, is faulty thinking that needs rectifying. 

Lately I have personally come across as well as read about privileged women who are undermining the effort for gender parity. Mostly because they have men in their lives who support them in all their endeavours or they are wealthy or have both; good money and good men! They are unaware that their inertia, silence or negativity on many social issues but particularly the inclusivity one one pushes the movement 10 steps backward. When you hear comments from these women like "I don't believe in feminism" or "why make a big deal of this gender or inclusivity issue", you have to wonder if privilege has completely blinded them? 

My conversation with the tourist on the train prompted me to take a small action. To write this piece. If all it does is help you to reflect on your privilege and be grateful, it would have achieved its goal.  Change as we know requires three steps; Awareness, Acceptance and Action and conversations, both in their written and verbal form are the biggest lever to creating the first step in change; Awareness. So let us privileged people accept our privilege and use it to change mindsets for the better, one conversation at a time. 

Anu Das Gupta was born in India, completed her tertiary education in Bangalore and left for Hong Kong to work for Cathay Pacific Airways to fulfil her dream of travelling the world.

Having forged a relationship with a man from Australia, Anu married him and moved from Hong Kong to Sydney. Here she landed a role at one of the 4 largest banks in the country- Westpac; where she worked in various business and corporate roles.

Furthering her education in Organisational Behaviour, Anu joined SingTel Optus as their Head of Organisation Effectiveness (Australia & Singapore) where she brought in the concept of measuring Employee Experience and shaped Executive Development to have a laser focus on the emotional well-being using the latest findings from Neuroscience.

After SingTel Optus, Anu decided to move to Fuji Xerox as their Asia Pacific Head of Organisation Development (OD) responsible for developing OD strategy solutions for talent management, inclusion and diversity, leadership development & employee engagement. This role saw her working across 8 countries and consequently 8 unique cultures.

Currently she is the People & Culture Director at AMP, a well-known Australian wealth management organisation, where she is accountable for designing and implementing the enterprise people and culture strategy and aligning it to the ambiguous future of work.  

She has two daughters buy only one husband (!) who proudly call themselves feminists.