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Privileged Groups Vs. Underrepresented Groups

February 15, 2023


Today’s blog is the 5th installation of the DEI series. Over the past few months, we have been discussing issues surrounding asking for help, specifically in the workplace. In the last 3 blogs, we have talked about why people should ask for help at work more frequently. We have also discussed why people are hesitant to ask for help. 

In our last blog, we discussed the specifics of equity and inclusion and took a deep dive into some of the societal barriers that may prevent businesses from achieving true equity and inclusion. In this blog, we are continuing that discussion by looking at how different groups of people can stand in the way of DEI efforts.


When we are looking at DEI in the workplace, we can categorize people into two groups - the privileged and the underrepresented. Typically, DEI work is focused on bringing the underrepresented groups to the table to have an equitable chance of success as the privileged groups. The logical next question is, “who makes up the privileged groups and who makes up the underrepresented groups?” First, we will begin by defining each group and then we will dive into how those groups can each play a role in improving DEI in the workplace.


Let’s start by defining “privilege”. There is a lot of discussion around who has privilege and it can get pretty heated. So, first we must declare that if you are a person of privilege, you are not inherently a person who oppresses others. However, you are someone who enjoys certain benefits based on your physical appearance or lifestyle choices. That being said, it is important for people to recognize their privilege so that they can understand where biases may exist within their own lives.   

This blog from Hive Learning defines privilege as “benefits that belong to people because they fit into a specific social group or have certain dimensions to their identity.” As they discuss, there are tons of characteristics that can define privilege in the US, including your “race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, wealth and class, among many others”. 

Alternatively, the underrepresented can then be defined as people who experience social discrimination and exist outside of the “ingroup”. In this research paper, Yolanda Blavo pulls together a myriad of resources that help us understand the “ingroup” and it’s effect on the workplace. Blavo summarizes research from Pickett and Brewer (2005) who found that, “Social identity theory (SIT) states that we see ourselves and form our sense of selves based on the groups that we are a part of. We have an emotional connection to the groups that we belong to and see them as part of our ingroup, perceiving groups that we do not belong to as outgroups. The more we identify with our ingroup, the more distanced we feel from outgroup members” 

Additionally, according to Mummendy and Wenzel’s research in 1999, “The problem with ingroup bias is not only that some people receive greater rewards than others, but also that it can lead to the mistreatment of those outside. This is called social discrimination essentially an umbrella term for when an ingroup member treats someone in an outgroup unfairly based on the subjective perspectives of those in the outgroup.” This is where the picture becomes clear. To summarize, people who enjoy a variety of privileged characteristics are more likely to get jobs in the first place and be part of the mainstream culture at work. Alternatively, people who are not part of the ingroup face discrimination and have inequitable access to resources that will help them succeed.


First and foremost, you are probably familiar with the concept of racial privilege. In the United States, the color of a person’s skin comes with varying levels of privilege and oppression. Unlike a person’s religious or sexual orientation, the color of a person’s skin is a characteristic that cannot be hidden from the public eye. Here in the United States, we have a massive body of research that displays workplace inequities based on race. For example, the University of Georgetown released this report which found that; 1) white workers are more likely to have good jobs at every level of education, 2) white workers have higher earnings in those good jobs at every level of education and 3) there are staggering annual gaps in earnings directly resulting from these disparities. 

Even though a person’s sexual orientation or religious beliefs may not be physically apparent, the impact is still measurable and important. For instance, a person who practices a religion that requires prayer at certain times of the day may not find a workplace that has policies allowing them to do so while still succeeding in their job. Additionally, socio-economic privilege often gives people a leg up, allowing them to afford a more advanced college education which oftentimes is a deciding factor in the hiring process.

While everyone enjoys some amount of privilege in one or more aspects of their lives, the point is that we all need to be aware of individual privileges and consider how that may affect our perspective. This will allow us all to be better allies and speak up when we notice inequities. 


When it comes to DEI efforts in the workplace, people who enjoy privilege have an important role to play. There is a lot of talk about the limitations of current DEI efforts, and two themes that continue to pop up are; (1) Lack of buy-in and support from leadership and, (2) uphill battle of fighting existing cultural norms of the organization. In both situations, there is a lot of resistance that can stand in the way of meaningful change. This blog points out how leadership teams often do not understand how important these initiatives are and therefore don’t make DEI initiatives a priority. Moreover, changing the company culture is difficult because there are often unconscious biases that employees don’t even recognize they are holding. It is definitely a huge barrier to confront these biases in the first place, which is required for cultural change to happen. People must first recognize the problem before they can work towards fixing it.

Additionally, privileged workers may not be readily available to underrepresented workers or may even be concerned about making time to be an ally. To start, many people simply do not recognize that they are in a position of privilege and that they should help underrepresented workers in their workplace. As Dr. David Rock says in this article, “it’s important to recognize when we’re in an advantaged position, take the perspective of those who are in a disadvantaged position, and consider the negative impact the unequal situation has on them. This isn’t easy, but it can be done with time and practiced self-awareness.”


Let’s be clear up front: people who are underrepresented are NOT responsible for their inequity. We do, however, believe that underrepresented groups can improve their equity in the workplace by learning about the superpower of asking for help. (This is exactly what we do here at Givitas, more on that later…) 

As we spoke about in depth in our prior blog (read it here), underrepresented groups do not ask as many questions as the majority ingroup. The result is further alienation for underrepresented workers from the majority ingroup. There are a variety of reasons why underrepresented groups ask less questions, and to summarize: (1) they don’t know how to ask for help from more privileged workers, (2) they don’t know how to overcome the fear of asking for help, and (3) they don’t have a safe place to ask for help. 

Additionally, one of the biggest barriers to inclusion and equity is that the underrepresented workers don’t have access to the knowledge, experience, and advice they need.  Mentorship programs help in this area, and we are big fans of, but don’t solve the problem.  Some challenges with Mentorship programs include finding the right mentor/mentee combinations, balancing the needs and expectations of both parties, not all mentors have the same knowledge and experience to share, it can require significant resources to manage a mentoring program, and not a very efficient process. 


The underrepresented need to overcome the barrier that prevents them from the knowledge, experience, and advice of the organization, which disproportionately exists in the privileged.  The underrepresented internal networks will most often be lacking in comparison to the internal networks of the privileged. To be more inclusive and equitable, the underrepresented need access to the privileged and their experience, knowledge and advice.  The underrepresented need the ability to build strong internal networks. The underrepresented needs a psychological safe place to ask for help, information, and advice. Teaching the underrepresented why to ask for help, how to ask for help, how to overcome the fear of asking for help, and providing a safe place for them to ask questions is step 1. Step 2 starts with giving the underrepresented access to those that have the knowledge, skills, and experience. Making it easy and efficient for those that have the knowledge and experience to share it with those that need it.  

Here at Give and Take Inc., our solutions solve that problem! The Reciprocity Ring teaches people why and how to ask for help, and helps them overcome the fear of asking.  Our purpose-built application Givitas creates a safe place for them to ask for help, allows the knowledge collaboration to scale across the organization, and makes it easy and efficient for people to provide the help. Whether your employees are looking for help doing their job, developing their career, or need help with something outside of work, Givitas creates a safe space where all employees have an equal playing field and can feel psychologically safe to submit their requests for help. And being an inclusive and equitable community, everyone has the opportunity to benefit from the sharing of knowledge by others in the community.

Givitas gives employees access to the entire workforce and removes silos and power struggles. Just as an example, we have seen entry level employees engaging with c-suite members which leads to more openness, more generosity, and an overall sense of belonging. The Reciprocity Ring and Givitas are the next steps in any DEI initiative to ensure that you harness the power of diversity by creating an inclusive and equitable environment.  Without inclusion and equity, DEI efforts will not provide the opportunities to a diverse workforce that they deserve and will not provide the value to the organization that a diverse workforce brings.

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