Tag Archives: privilege

The Questions People Ask

26 Mar

I’m mulling over an experience I had last week.

Maybe it’s because I’m a workshop facilitator, and a teacher before that.
Maybe it’s because I was facilitating a workshop when it happened.
Maybe it’s because the workshop was on creating LGBTQ safe space.

Whatever the reason, when one workshop participant came up to me on break and said “I have to ask, was it IVF?” I answered her question. (I guess I should backtrack and add that I’m pregnant).

Maybe it’s because I feel a responsibility to educate, or the fact that she told me her sister is a lesbian. Or maybe I just don’t have a problem answering questions.
But I am wondering now, if I did the right thing. Would she ask a straight woman how she got pregnant? But then, in that case, she may assume that she knows the answer (and she may be wrong).

So I wonder: is how I got pregnant one of those questions & answers that will help break down barriers? To be honest, I don’t know.

As a D&I facilitator, my job is to help people cultivate tools to be able to break down barriers so that they can really see others. Much of those barriers are due to personal and societal bias. Part of really seeing others and the barriers they face is recognizing privilege. One of the liberties of privilege can be feeling the right to question. It’s tricky, because without questions, we rely on what we know – which can be informed by stereotypes, or could just be incorrect. Questions allow us to get to know each other. But I have do wonder about the appropriateness of some questions, who we dare to ask, and what this suggests about how we see and value certain people (and identities).

I may be over-analyzing, but upon further thought, I think what I would have liked to say is this:

“That’s a really personal question. Why do you want to know?”
Or maybe: “That’s a really personal question. What makes you think you can ask?”

I could still have answered her question, but I would have created an opportunity for thought.
Which, come to think of it, is my most important responsibility as an educator.

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copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion.


Faith @ Work II

22 Nov

One of the workshops I attended at the Nov. 9th Diversity@Work conference put on by Skills for Change was by Nadir Shirazi. He spoke about dedicated spaces in offices for quiet time, prayer, meditation etc.

Nadir’s presentation was very interesting; he shared the challenge for companies to name these rooms, and the lack of follow-up to see who is using them and how they are used. He confirmed that most of the requests for such rooms are made my Muslim employees. And he explained that complexities arise when these rooms are used by many people with different beliefs and needs. Providing a room, as the title of his workshop suggested, is just the tip of the religious accommodation iceberg.

What stood out for me most, however, was the inequity Nadir shared of where these rooms often are. In their commitment to diversity and inclusion many companies have such spaces in their corporate offices. This is wonderful for the executives and employees who work there, but doesn’t help the staff in the company’s call centres, or retail stores, or franchise outlets (for example).

It was an interesting manifestation of privilege within the context of attempting to be equitable; of how easily people can be overlooked even when we are trying to be inclusive. I’m willing to bet it’s largely unconscious that the men and women at head office have a meditation or prayer room while the workers “on the front lines” of these companies may not. But if this is the case, what do our accommodation efforts really amount to?

It sure made me wonder when I placed my order for tea at the Toronto Airport last week before boarding my flight, and noticed that not a single person working there was White.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion

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