It’s impossible to wake up this morning, and not be aware of what is going on in the world. Following the almost surreal situation in the States, which has been brewing for a very long time, but came to the fore with the recent murder of George Floyd. Were it not for the video that emerged, the world would not be exploding like this.
As Will Smith said, racism is not getting worse, it’s getting filmed.
I’ve been involved in various conversations, with people all over the world about this in the last week. What I am hearing is that racism is present everywhere, even though our privilege, position, and location, doesn’t show it to us. Why is privilege important? Because privilege is the path paved for us, it’s accidental, but one that left unchecked, can lead to racism. Privilege blinds us into thinking that we are greater than we are.
It’s ok to be successful, it’s not OK to think that makes you better than the next person. Especially because a lot of the time people might be privileged, and because they have had some challenges, they think this doesn’t make them privileged anymore. Wrong.
Privileged groups have power over oppressed groups. Privileged people are more likely to dominate politics, be economically well-off, have influence over the media, and hold executive positions in companies. Privileged people can use their positions to benefit people like themselves – other privileged people. Often, they do this unknowingly, because like sexism, it’s built into our society.
Why is this bad for us all?
Less diversity creates less robust systems, companies, and long-term success. It stifles creativity, ingenuity, harmony, wealth distribution. It stops cohesion in our society. A true meritocracy, a world where it was really only down to how good someone is, not how expensive their education was, not their parents, them. Would be better for us all.
All my clients, and the most successful companies I know, get this right. They know that they need to build a truly meritocratic environment, where people see the right people being promoted, or business will fail.
It is a fact that corrupt management teams, built on elitism and favouritism build poor businesses, just like corrupt countries face the same fate. The economy is circular, if someone stops earning, they stop buying. We’re all connected. That’s why governments backed up people’s jobs in coronavirus, it wasn’t (just) to help them, it was to save the rest of the economy from collapsing.
Both business and life, is not sustainable unless we are on a level playing field.
In order to understand privilege, I have explained the ways in which my own life is privileged, and the ways in which it isn’t. Because the whole definition of privilege is important to understand clearly when you are assessing other people for jobs at your companies.
Ways in which I am privileged:
- I am white, my native language is English, I did my secondary and tertiary studies in the UK, I grew up in the UK from my early teens and onwards, I could start my company in London, my father was a teacher/ lecturer and is smart, also my father attended Cambridge at a time when relatively few people went to University at all (thanks to a scholarship), my mother always wanted to be a business woman and told me I could do anything, my parents are very international, my parents taught me good values (and are still together), my parents are (were good-looking, I have a British passport. I live in Europe. I have a nice family (and nobody has ever been in prison in my family).
Ways in which I am not:
- I am a woman, both my parents are from refugee families (one Germany, one Palestine, same war, you figure out the metrics), I went to a state school (albeit a good one), when I started my own company I left every client of my former firm behind, when I bought my first house I did it with my own savings, my parents have never supported me, and apart from a very brief time, no partner of mine has ever supported me. I worked incredibly long hours for the first 10+ years in my career even when working for other people. My extended family is all over the world so I don’t get to see them much at all sadly. We didn’t have much of a support network growing up because of the distance.
A lot of the time, using an awareness of privilege, I can select amazing people for our clients from the most surprising places. It takes courage, but if you can assess candidates not only on who they are today, but on their whole story on how they got there, you get a much more accurate view of who the leading candidates really are.
Then you should hire them.
I have done this a lot with women throughout my career, because they are so often undervalued, not in the right place at the right time, or not working for quite the right employer to get it. I don’t want to say it’s easy, but sometimes they are easily the leading candidate. Usually the work I have to do is to prepare them to sell themselves, and give them an accurate view on how good they actually are.
I have also moved senior Mauritian, Indian and Polish origin candidates (usually who are already in Europe), they are highly educated (when I say so I refer not to the type of institution, but the level) and they bring a world-class work ethic.
What struck me this week, is that I have rarely done this for a black person – wow the finance world is such a white place. I really hope we can change that.