Yes, I’ve worked hard to get where I am today. But for many in our society, hard work would not have been enough. For some it would have been an inaccessible, or at best irrelevant, luxury. So how nice to be able to direct my efforts to things that would genuinely help me progress. How nice to have the time, space, energy and support to make those efforts possible. How nice to come from a background where hard work was valued and encouraged – because if you put it in, it would yield results.
How nice, in other words, to start climbing the mountain from half-way up, with a clear view of the summit and Sherpas to lead the way. And to have the confidence to set out along the path, a confidence that comes of having the right equipment, protective clothing, a good meal inside you and another one waiting. Access to a map and medical support and like-minded companions.
Maybe I take the metaphor too far. But you get the gist. The bottom line is that, however hard I’ve worked, I have been lucky. My teacher parents weren’t rich, but we had enough, and they were educated and supportive. I went to state schools, but they were good schools, with dedicated and inspiring teachers, and they got me into Cambridge. From there I found a career that has been personally, intellectually and financially rewarding. How lovely.
I am not blind to the privileges I’ve enjoyed along the way. And it seems only fair, then, to do what I can to change things for others with less fortunate backgrounds. I have no more right to these privileges than any other human being, so maybe it is guilt which sparks my interest in social mobility, or maybe it is more than that – maybe it is the need to share. I don’t want to throw my privileges away; I simply want them not to be privileges. I want as many people as possible to benefit from the wealth, luxury and sophistication that our so-called civilised society enjoys. Or rather, that parts of it enjoy. The lucky parts.
I believe all of the UK’s young people should have opportunities like I had. But to talk of opportunity alone is to over-simplify. You have to be aware of opportunities, and know where to find them. You need the ambition and the confidence to grasp them. You need role models you can relate to, support and encouragement from the people you live and learn amongst. You need to be free of the constraints – and the distractions – of poverty, poor schooling, ill-health, danger and abuse, and to be protected from discrimination and bias. You need the knowledge and skills to open the doors you reach, and continued nurturing as you move through the unfamiliar territory of higher and further education, selection procedures, training and careers. You need funding. Perhaps even somewhere to live. There are many practical issues to tackle beyond simply creating “opportunities”.
So, what can we do, at IP Inclusive, to help address those issues? Clearly our Careers in Ideas outreach campaign has a part to play, but there is much more than that to be done. Other organisations are already working on it – in2scienceUK, Generating Genius and UniversifyEducation to name but a few; we could partner with them and learn from their experiences. You may well know of others.
I’d like to organise an IP Inclusive event around social mobility and improving access to the IP professions. I’m looking for people who could help with that, contribute ideas, introduce speakers and invitees, and then make things happen as a result. Are you one of those people?
Social mobility – or rather, lack of it – is of course a huge socioeconomic problem, steeped in politics, garnished with prejudice, and we can’t solve it alone. But there are things we can do, even small things, and here is where we should start. We must be honest about what brought us to this charmed existence, and willing to give our time, expertise and influence to redress the balance of privilege.
And the more we open up to a wider pool of talent, the better equipped we’ll be to create role models, opportunities and support mechanisms for people from every part of our society. There is no reason why someone who grew up in poverty should not be intellectually capable of joining the IP professions, or indeed why innate competence should not triumph over a less-than-perfect education. There is no reason to exclude large sections of the population from a profession that is supposed to be broad-minded and ethically unimpeachable, simply because their luck ran out.
Everyone stands to benefit from a more socially mobile society, from the individuals who enjoy greater opportunity and fulfilment to the businesses which thereby gain access to new talent, fresh perspectives and broader customer engagement.
So let me know if you can help IP Inclusive play its part. We absolutely must not look down from the summit and sneer at the people struggling below us. Nor can we pretend that the lower slopes of our mountain are shrouded in mist: we know full well what’s happening down there, and we know it needs to change.
Let’s go down and help. Let’s see a few more people get lucky.
IP Inclusive Leader