Globally mobile people experience privilege in myriad ways. Change agent Ezinne Kwubiri challenged us—at FIGT's first Conversation for Change—to face up to social injustices and to “keep the conversation going!”
On 14 July 2020, FIGT held the first of its Conversations for Change, with guest Ezinne Kwubiri, North America Inclusion and Diversity Manager at H&M, and hosted by FIGT Treasurer, LaShell Tinder, who is also a colleague of Ezinne’s and is the North America Global Mobility Manager.
These Conversations are part of FIGT’s efforts to examine our privilege and to explore how our community might respond to racism, inequities, disparities, and discrimination around the world—particularly focusing on our globally mobile and cross-cultural community.
Reflecting on our labels
In our daily lives, we come across different words that point to people on the move. LaShell started by asking what we think of when we see/hear the following labels:
Most likely, we make assumptions about each “type” of mobile person, such as by associating them with a particular socioeconomic status. For example, a refugee might conjure up an image of someone who is in need, often from a lower socioeconomic class.
But we also recognize that those assumptions can be wrong. A refugee may have funds, be educated, have their networks. They may have been heads of companies or professors in their countries but because of their displacement, are working in low-skilled jobs for which they are overqualified.
[Note: Asylum seeker = someone who is seeking asylum. Refugee = an asylum seeker who the UNHCR has officially recognized as a refugee.]
It’s not always easy to classify ourselves with just these four words. You may ask: “If I’m locally hired and not on a big expat package, am I still an ‘expat’?” “I’m a TCK but is that different from being an immigrant kid?”
Other terms like “trailing spouse,” “accompanying spouse,” and “lovepat” reflect how terminology can convey different kinds of assumptions—and how the words we use can change.
The realities are not as clear cut as the terminology may suggest. Ezinne and LaShell reminded us to think about what other references people are thinking about when using these words.
“We may be creating social, racial distancing with the words we use,” says LaShell. Ezinne concurs: “We have to be cautious with our words, that we’re not excluding or idolizing particular groups.”
Reflecting on privilege
Privilege—or lack thereof—is an inherent part of our assumptions for these labels. Just think about the word “expats,” which many of us probably call ourselves. To be an expat hints at a relatively privileged economic status, even if we know individual circumstances can be quite diverse.
Privilege doesn’t only refer to economic status. It may come from our ability to speak English fluently or from easy access to the Internet and technology. Having dual citizenship could be another form of privilege. Growing up in Nigeria as a white child could mean always having the soccer ball—a small but real form of privilege for a child.
The ability to choose or to exercise control over our circumstances, having the confidence that our voices will be heard—these are all forms of privilege.
Not having to think about our privilege is, in itself, a sign of privilege.
Ezinne notes that even people from marginalized groups can have a sense of privilege. Ezinne immigrated to the US and she’s a black woman. So in these aspects—especially in corporate America—she’s part of the marginalized population. But she also went to an enabling university and has had great jobs, she’s able to travel around the world, and she’s in the position to advocate for other people. These are her privileges.
What can we do with our privilege
Ezinne explains: “Identifying one’s privilege is the core of breaking inequality and social injustice and shaping a space for diversity and inclusion. In order for you to support and advocate for others, you have to recognize how you are different from them and how you’re benefiting from that difference.”
Having someone suggest that we are privileged can be uncomfortable. This is why FIGT hopes these Conversations for Change will help bring people along to step out of our comfort zones and to go on this journey together.
Once we acknowledge our own privilege, we can then think about what we are doing with the privilege that we have. We can then ask, as LaShell did, “If we are in the privileged group, how can we be part of the change?”
As an example, Ezinne refers to the reopening of schools under the COVID-19 pandemic. Some families may have the choice to keep their children home. But for other families, that’s not a viable option: the parents may need to work full time and cannot pay for childcare at home; some children may count on school for meals.
The response then needs to take into account all these differences, with an awareness of what privileges we may be taking for granted, and come up with a model that supports the underprivileged.
If you want to use your privilege to educate others, Ezinne suggests that we continue:
Having courageous conversations
Sharing our stories. Give clear examples because people can relate to those stories better.
Other thoughts: Gender and freedom of mobility agility
LaShell leaves us with two more aspects of mobility and privilege to ponder.
Gender equality and mobility
How often do we pull ourselves back, as women? Sometimes we have to give ourselves permission to take a chance and let everyone support us.
Freedom of mobility agility
How do we think about equity of employment and the freedom of mobility agility—whether it is staying in one’s home, working remotely, or being a frontline worker?
We conclude with some words from Ezinne:
“We need to call [social injustices] out and face the change. If we don’t talk about it, we won’t feel like there’s anything to be done. Let’s keep the conversation going!”
[The video of the discussion will be posted at a later time. Please join us on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to receive updates.]
Ezinne Kwubiri is a change agent, diversity leader, innovator, and ally. Her career began in the financial services industry and quickly moved to media and entertainment, including 11 years at Viacom Media Networks (MTV), where she worked on change management, diversity and inclusion, and employee engagement.
She is now North America Inclusion and Diversity Manager at H&M, the first in this role. As a board member of the organization She’s the First and a volunteer for other non-profit organizations that serve underrepresented communities, Ezinne uses her influence to empower these groups.
Her world view is one that upholds the values that mandate equality, access, and opportunity for all humanity. Ezinne was scheduled to be a Keynote Speaker at FIGT2020.
LaShell Tinder has both personal and professional experience in relocation that spans three decades. As an accompanying spouse for 11 years, LaShell raised three TCKs who were born in the US, Belgium, and Venezuela.
She began her work in mobility helping accompanying spouses/partners as a career/transition coach before moving into relocation management for relocation management companies and corporations.
LaShell lived in Sweden for 8 months while on a short-term assignment. This experience gave her new insight into saying “yes” as a woman to promote one’s own career.
Currently, she is the North America Global Mobility Manager at H&M. LaShell has served on the FIGT Board as Treasurer since October 2019.
“Conversations for Change” is a short series of virtual discussions, open to all in our community. Each meeting will begin with a short presentation to stimulate our thinking and will then open for conversation. Our goal is for each discussion to be a starting point for individuals with a heart to work towards change.
[Written and edited by EN with SB]