Have we forgotten class?
Recently here at Empire Fighting Chance we undertook a beliefs project where the whole charity participated. The purpose was for us to take a collective responsibility for what we believe in and how we should act, our real values. The belief that created the most discussion was something that I feel passionately about,
“We believe there has to be more working-class leadership at the table.”
There is not enough working-class leadership anywhere in this country. Recently I was hit by a stat – 1.5% of all management positions in FTSE companies are held by people from working class backgrounds. That stat could suggest multiple things, including:
1. We are led to believe working class people aren’t as clever as those from more privileged backgrounds.
2. Deliberately or otherwise, we have created system and structures that harm those from working class backgrounds.
3. We are led to believe working classes don’t work as hard as the privileged counterparts.
Whilst I hope that this is obvious, points 1&3 are blatantly not true. A report from the governments Social Mobility Commission in 2017 showed that working class professionals are paid an average of 17% less than colleagues from more affluent backgrounds. This suggests that point 2 is the problem. We are systemically disadvantaging those from less privilege.
I know of a corporate in Bristol that has taken account of class in it’s recruitment. People overperforming than their particular state school average are given a chance. For example, if at A level, the school average is CCD and they get BCC they are considered. They are simply not discarded because the public school educated candidates have got better A level results. The next stage of recruitment is anonymised and based on aptitude. The working-class candidates are consistently outperforming their more privileged counterparts. Removing bias has improved life chances and the business!
We often talk about how important representation is, yet we don’t see it at class level. We need to. I have to attend events or meetings with other charity leaders. I often struggle to find working class leadership. Middle class people have empathy, can lead brilliantly but in many circumstances their knowledge is theoretical, it is learned not lived. Crass examples maybe but imagine race equality being headed up by someone white and privileged or a gender equality leader being an old, white, middle-class man. This would not be acceptable but somehow class is.
In this sector we get challenged on diversity but not on class lines. Diversity is nuanced and not split purely by gender or race. That is too simple and too comfortable. I have been speaking recently to people from the US, including a professor who works with US government and someone from the Mayor’s office of a major US city. They both talked about class not race being their biggest issue, for the record both were African – American. For them class incorporated those struggling or being left behind regardless of race or gender. They needed and wanted more leadership.
Inequality is a killer. This may be inequality of opportunity, access to healthcare or race. There are numerous studies that show inequality is a driver of violence in our towns and cities. If we want better, safer more inclusive and prosperous societies then we have to make changes. We need to create diversity of thought, diversity of leadership. We need to disrupt, to innovate to make things better. This comes from different viewpoints, from having uncomfortable conversations but importantly from having people with a deeper understanding of situations.
"The first thing [a new working-class MP] should bear in mind is that these were not his ancestors. His forebears had no part in the past, the accumulated dust of which now muffles his own footfalls. His forefathers were tending sheep or ploughing the land, or serving the statesmen whose names he sees written on the walls around him, or whose portraits look down upon him in the long corridors. It is not the past of his people that extends in colourful pageantry before his eyes. They were shut out from all this; were forbidden to take part in the dramatic scenes depicted in these frescoes. In him his people are there for the first time." Nye Bevan, In Place Of Fear.
The reason working class leadership is important to me is because I think those of us from working class backgrounds have a duty to be unashamed of our class and to create opportunities for others. We need to show people that they are good enough to succeed and we must use our acquired social capital to help.
We should help create and campaign for a change that improves your community, your city, your business and creates economic growth. What isn’t to like about that?
We need inclusive change.
Martin Bisp - Co Founder and CEO Empire Fighting Chance