Discussing Power, Privilege, and Inequity in a Customer Services Class

Matthew Keigley

Discuss and analyze how categories of difference are or have been created, maintained, and experienced through power, privilege, and inequity.

I want to provide resources about power, privilege, and inequity in the workforce. However, I want to emphasize the importance of diversity, inclusion, and positive work culture by promoting diverse, fair work practices.

Other articles and a video that support diversity, performance, and productivity:

I am thinking of using this YouTube interview with J. Israel Greene to ask a series of discussion questions.

You can find some examples here.

  • What is diversity, inclusion, and representation in the workplace?
  • Why should companies care about diversity or representation?
  • How does diversity improve team dynamics?
  • How can we make the conversation about inclusion more inclusive?
  • How can you increase the diversity of your leadership team?
  • How can you foster more inclusion in the workplace?
  • How can you blend a diverse workforce together to complete tasks or solve organizational problems?
  • How can you help everyone value the talents and differences that each member brings to a project?

Additional Content

Barriers to Effective Communication – Understanding Biases, Stereotypes in Customer Service

In my customer service class, we review the different forms of communication. Barriers to effective listening is a topic we cover. In one activity we discuss the obstacles of listening including external noise, interruptions, mental detours, stereotypes, trigger words, and attitudes.

One major barrier in communication is having biases. Everyone has biases. Biases can be favorable or unfavorable prejudices.  Biases are often used in a negative way, but can also be view as positive.

Implicit biases are unconscious attitudes and stereotypes that can manifest in the criminal justice system, workplace, school setting, and in the healthcare system. Implicit bias is also known as unconscious bias or implicit social cognition. (Simply Psychology.org Jul 1, 2020)

Prejudice is defined as “preconceived opinion that is not based on reason or actual experience.” Biases are prejudices, prejudgment, unconscious bias or implicit association that makes us quick to judge.  If you can’t associate, you can make false or wrong biases (assumptions).  Everyone has biases. Try and understand your own biases and avoid making assumptions that are not factual.

The following videos introduce implicit bias.

  1. Preface: Biases and Heuristics  (5:14)
  2. Lesson 1: Schemas (3:12)
  3. Lesson 2: Attitudes and Stereotypes (4:13)
  4. Lesson 3: Real World Consequences (3:45)
  5. Lesson 4: Explicit v. Implicit Bias (2:49)
  6. Lesson 5: The IAT (5:14)
  7. Lesson 6: Countermeasures (5:23)

Project Implicit

The Implicit Association Test (IAT) measures the strength of associations between concepts (e.g., black people, gay people) and evaluations (e.g., good, bad) or stereotypes (e.g., athletic, clumsy). The main idea is that making a response is easier when closely related items share the same response key.

IMPLICIT ASSOCIATION TEST (IAT) I highly encourage you to visit the following web site and test your Implicit Associations.

The below Ted talk explains more about the Implicit Association Test

Immaculate perception;  Jerry Kang at TEDxSanDiego 2013


Columbia University’s Derald Wing Su defines microaggressions as “A Slight Snub or insult that communicates hostile, derogatory, or negative messages.  Microaggressions can accumulate and cause many problems of frustrations and alienate.

Types of microaggressions

  1. Alien in your own land
  2. Only make eye contact to those who are similar to you.
  3. Give someone a nickname because their name is hard to pronounce.
  4. Make assumptions or stereotype based on someone’s appearance.

Microaggressions can result in “slights, insults, indignities, and denigrating messages.”

In an article from the American Psychological Association, Dr. Derald Sue is cited for his research on what he calls the three types of microaggressions:

  • Microassaults: Conscious and intentional actions or slurs, such as using racial epithets, displaying swastikas or deliberately serving a white person before a person of color in a restaurant.
  • Microinsults: Verbal and nonverbal communications that subtly convey rudeness and insensitivity and demean a person’s racial heritage or identity. An example is an employee who asks a colleague of color how she got her job, implying she may have landed it through an affirmative action or quota system.
  • Microinvalidations: Communications that subtly exclude, negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or experiential reality of a person of color. For instance, white people often ask Asian-Americans where they were born, conveying the message that they are perpetual foreigners in their own land.

Examples of Racial Microaggressions

Microaggressions in the Classroom

Tips to Avoid Microaggressions (New Module Page)

  • Think before you speak. If there’s a possibility that a joke will offend somebody, it might be best not to tell the joke.
  • Ask yourself what is the meaning or intent before implying a stereotype or using a slur. Would you say it around people who are the target of the stereotype or slur? If not, don’t say it.
  • Remember that having friends that belong to marginalized communities doesn’t excuse you when you use slurs and other microaggressions.

If someone uses microaggressions, correct them, show empathy, and explain how it impacts someone.

Handling Cultural Sensitive Conversations

  1. Approach with an open mind – Actively Listen.
  2. Avoid Stereotypes – Broad generalizations leading to assumptions about an individual based on a group identity.
  3. Get ready to feel uncomfortable – Practice humility, discomfort, we don’t always have the answers.
  4. Acknowledge trigger words – Trigger words and phrases are those that cause a listener to feel strong emotions because of previous experiences.

Focus on Impact rather than Intent

Intent = What we hope our audience will think, feel and do.

Impact = What they actually think, feel and do.

  • Words matter, whether someone intends to do it or not.
  • Culturally sensitive issues can spur automatic judgements about intent.
  • Someone makes a culturally or racial sensitive joke, the intent was to be funny, but the impact was insulting and hurtful.

Conduct a dialogue rather than a debate

Debates are…

  • Combative
  • Defensive
  • Dismissing a colleague’s ability to properly recount experiences

Dialogues can be…

  • Collaborative
  • Acceptance of plurality and understanding

“Leading Through Conflict” (2006) Mark Gerzon

“Listen to understand

  • Find Common ground
  • Understand the issue
  • Rich and poignant conversations
  • Not all debate is bad
  • Cultural sensitive topics
  • Clear understanding

Remember Words Matter

  • Consider your language, words sting, words can bully, belittle, and isolate.
  • Consider the person first – to or about the person, and how you describe them.
  • Removing gender from roles.
  • Profanity.
  • Slurs or Derogatory Phrases – some groups might use them, but it doesn’t give you the right.

Use The Platinum Rule

The Golden Rule – Treat others the way you would want to be treated.

  • But not everyone once to be treated the way you want to be treated.

The Platinum Rule – Treat your colleagues and customers the way they want to be treated.

  • We tend to normalize everything and subconsciously think anything not normal is abnormal.
  • Our perspectives based on values, occupation, experiences, nationality, gender, sex, age, and religion.
  • By learning other people’s preferences, their different perspectives, keeps it fair. Again, treat your colleagues and customers the way they want to be treated and you will build better relationships.

Techniques for dialogue around diversity

  • Be an Ally – A person who chooses to align with efforts to improve the circumstances for individuals from a marginalized or disadvantage group.
  • A – Act, Don’t stay neutral
  • L – Learn – Take an invested interested
  • L – Listen – Use your listening skills to understand
  • Y – Yield – Use your privilege and allow for equity

Respond with Empathy

Responding to stories of difficult experiences. Show empathy

Showing empathy


  • Listen without distractions.
  • Be conscious of body language.
  • Validate their feelings and experiences.
  • Don’t compare similar experiences.
  • Offer support.


  • Question
    • Not believing or not understanding their perspective.
  • Criticize
    • It’s unproductive.
    • It’s blaming.
    • You will lose trust.
  • Advise
    • Limits the discussion of the problem.
    • Denies the person’s ability to vent.

How to Ask Questions About Culturally Sensitive Topics?

Ask respectful questions

  • Avoid public settings.
  • Understand the individual’s experiences.
  • Ask permission first.
  • Express your interest in understanding.
  • When asking about something personal, it is okay to say “No”.
  • Be polite.
  • Understand that the other person might feel uncomfortable.
  • Acknowledge your experiences and your limits of the topic.

How to share feedback that your offended?

Unproductive Responses

  • Say nothing and keep those negative feelings.
  • Say nothing but tell others.
  • Confront in the moment.

Productive Actions

  • Process with time and have a feedback conversation.
  • Talk with someone – mentor, someone you trust.
  • Write it out.
  • Ask yourself – who is the person, what role do they play, and what is my relationship.

Feedback – conversation

  • Consider word choices
  • Schedule time in private, neutral location
  • Facts – when, what, who
  • Feelings – emotions
  • Future – what you would like done
  • Speak for yourself
  • Use “I” statements
  • Avoid assumptions about intent
  • Describe observable, concrete behaviors

Ways to apologize

Six components of an apology

  1. Acknowledge Responsibility
  2. Offer to repair the issue
  3. Express regret
  4. Explain what went wrong
  5. Repent for the problem
  6. Request forgiveness

Avoid Doing

  • Defend yourself
  • Use “if and Buts” – take ownership
  • Use a half-hearted apology
  • Don’t joke or make light of the situation

Adapted from Communicating about Culturally Sensitive Issues

Implicit and Explicit Biases Additional Resources

How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them

Healing divides starts with conversation


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Diversity and Social Justice - Faculty Guide (2021 Edition) Copyright © 2021 by Matthew Keigley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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