Your Business Advice is Dripping with Privilege

Insights / culture, management and leadership, DEI, equity and inclusion

Your Business Advice is Dripping with Privilege


First, you need to know that I was really trying to listen and learn.  I don’t go looking for advice simply to point out what’s wrong with it - I’m a positive person!  Even my Gallup Strengths Finder says so. I go looking for advice from the leaders that I find inspiring because I want my life to look like theirs. Someday, I want to be on the couch with someone asking me “how did you get here?” It’s just that I keep coming across these sound bites, mere nuggets in the grand scope of the business advice buffet, that are turning the whole experience rancid for me.

Privilege - I can not listen to any business book, article, podcast, literature without hearing it. Nothing against these leaders who are telling their story as honestly and authentically as they can, but usually in the VERY opening of any of the advice there is some piece of it that is so rooted in privilege, that I have to stop listening because I realize that the rest of their story hinges on having access to privilege, network, capital. I immediately become the “other,” and we are strangers with nothing in common.

This isn't new or rocket science, privilege is a well-documented fact that separates the haves from the have-nots.  But I want to call it out specifically in business advice and wisdom because in these stories no one seems to acknowledge it.

I was listening to Masters of Scale by Reid Hoffman, a brilliant podcast with excellent production - and he was interviewing Diane Greene, the co-founder of VMWare.  It was a story of how Diane “crab walked” into the idea that becomes VMWare. As the interview continues, the story turns to where Diane sharpened her competitive tools. It went something like this, “everything I learned, I learned from competitive sailing.  My father had a sailboat, and I became a women's national champion.” Huh, sailing.

On the podcast “How I Built This” The founder of Lara Bar was going through an incredibly tough time, working at Whole Foods to make ends meet, and what did she do when she had nowhere else to turn? A tiny $10,000 micro-loan from her father. I almost laughed at how dismal they were making the situation out to be when all that time her dad had a cool 10K waiting to be asked for.

When the COO of Instagram shared a post that featured her mother's professional volunteering as a loving tribute, I thought “wow they were rich enough that her mom volunteered for a living. That's amazing.”

And God bless the queen of vulnerability Brené Brown. In the opening of her book “Dare To Lead,” she overcame her fear of speaking in front of an intimidating C Suite crowd, in part, because her neighbor who was attending happened to be at the event and came backstage to comfort her. The only thing I could think was “WOW, she must live in a nice neighborhood.”

The comfort that it brought her at that moment, the strength it gave her to get out there and be her most vulnerable self - that is a comfort and assurance that for most people is inaccessible.

It’s important for me to say that I have plenty of privilege in my life, I’m a straight, cisgender woman, of mixed European, Filipino and Puerto Rican heritage, who was born in the US and grew up a military brat with healthcare, and housing. But I still feel different, separated from this class of business advisors and wisdom-sharers. My antennae for this kind of privilege is weirdly attuned to small things, and it’s clear that I have some jealousy issues that I need to work on.  But I need to know, is this just me? Does anyone else suffer from a heightened awareness of how “I’ll never be like these people?” Maybe I’m looking for a specific kind of story that reflects my path, someone who can say - “I grew up like you and look at me now. I’m wealthy and powerful. People take me seriously.” Maybe it’s because all four of these stories are white women, and I am not a white woman. I do know that these four women are brilliant and I am so glad they are in the world doing the work that they do - but it doesn’t change my reality.   

I need you to prove me wrong.  Please point me to the stories, the heroines, the women of color who’s modest upbringing, public educations, and limited savings account set the stage for their ascent to power and money in business. What did they have to do?  What rules did they have to break? What price have they paid for their success? And how do I join?

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