Topic 7: Power and Privilege Dynamics


Topic 7 provides scenarios that require students to acquire an understanding of how power and privilege can be misused and/or misunderstood. The appropriate use of power and privilege is essential for a healthy organizational culture where all employees feel valued. The contributions of all employees should collectively contribute to the success of the organization.

Scenario 1: Abuse of Training Power

You are the training and development department leader. You have not been able to keep the required two trainers who report to you for longer than 6 months at a time. The turnover in your department has been 100%, twice, in the past two years. None of the supervisors in other departments want you or your trainers to interact with their employees. The supervisors have expressed to organization leadership that you are misusing your power as a training department leader and are not listening to them as they try to explain to you that your training curriculum and processes do not align with how their employees do their jobs. They also complain that you try to use your power to force them to send their employees to training sessions. Their employees always come back from every training session angry about their experience with the training department leader and the trainer. There has also been no significant productivity improvement by workers after completing training.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In what way(s) is power and privilege dynamics a problem in the above scenario?
  2. What should the supervisors do?
  3. What should the employees do?

Scenario 2: Privilege of a White Female to Openly Show Bias

Micah has been employed by his organization for five years. He is a white male, LGBTQ employee who has received mentorship and positive, biased treatment by his supervisor throughout his time within the organization. In fact, Micah is being mentored to become a supervisor by a white female who was mentored in the same way as she is providing mentorship for Micah.

Trevor is also a white male, LGBTQ employee. He has done much more work than Micah, but his work and achievements have never been publicized by the supervisor. In fact, she ignores all of Trevor’s work and pretends that he is not there. When asked if she thinks that it is appropriate to show favoritism towards Micah over Trevor and the other employees, she acknowledges that she recognizes her bias and said that she was told by her mentor that it was not a problem. Trevor subsequently left the organization.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you think Trevor made the right decision? Why or why not?
  2. How would you have handled the situation if you were Trevor?

Supplemental Readings

Hallett, T. (2003). Symbolic power and organizational culture. Sociological Theory, 21, 128 –149.

Hanscome, L., & Cervero, R.M. (2003). The impact of gendered power relations in HRD. Human Resource Development International, 6, 509—525.

Shipton, J., & McAuley, J. (1994). Issues of power and marginality in personnel. Human Resource Management Journal, 4, 1 – 13.

Steinbauer, R., Renn, R., Taylor, R., & Njoroge, P. (2014). Ethical leadership and followers’ moral judgment: The role of followers’ perceived accountability and self-leadership. Journal of Business Ethics, 120(3), 381-392.

Stevenson, W.B. , & Bartunek, J.M. (1996). Power, interaction, position, and the generation of cultural agreement in organizations. Human Relations, 49, 75—104.

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