Revealing Privilege: Examining Manifestations of Race, Class, and Gender in Health and Human Service Organizations
Collins, Leslie Venise
Race, class, and gender dynamics can result in power differentials and discrimination in organizations. Such deleterious effects are particularly troubling for non-profit agencies with diverse employee and community bases and that endeavor to redress social inequality through service and program provision. Foucault (1975, 1980) as well as Andersen and Collins’ (2007) theories provide a means to conceptualize race, class, and gender as power processes that contribute to the production and maintenance of organizational privilege (unearned benefits and advantages). This study examines some of the effects of societal power systems (i.e., race, class, and gender) on possible mechanisms that foster or undermine privilege in such organizations. Privilege is defined here as the unearned provision of access to resources experienced by some employees to their benefit, but usually at the expense of others. Using a case study design, I examine survey, census, and archival data from five organizations to assess employee perceptions about their experiences and how these dynamics may be related to privilege. Results suggest that formally educated White employees are positioned to access forms of privilege inside and outside the sample organizations. Although their counterparts experience job satisfaction and believe they have informal influence, their roles, relationships, and networks do not position them to experience privilege as defined here. These findings suggest that both Foucault and Collins’ theories can be applied to a study of health and human service organizations--and with troubling outcomes. Moreover, if the negative perceptions of frontline employees, females of color, and less formally educated females are valid, such organizations may be inadvertently fostering social injustices with detrimental effects for employee culture and the communities they serve.