Anti-Social Mobility

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I find social class as a subject, difficult.

I can only talk about my own experience and situation, and so here’s my story.

I’m exceptionally proud of my working class roots and when the subject is raised I define myself categorically as working class although the truth is, by most definitions, I suppose these days, i’m middle class.

I grew up on a council estate in Neath called Meadow Road, a collection of a couple of hundred council houses and flats, identical looking, scattered in a circular fashion that had its own mini social structure depending on where in the street you lived.

I have fond memories of a strong feeling of community spirit, a happy childhood of using the full expanse of the council estate for the best games; football and British bulldog on the grass banks, fox and hounds around the lanes and gardens, and making dens in the neighbouring field and woods. And sure, the estate had its problems, but we would somehow turn those problems into interesting events.

I still vividly remember watching Chris Higgs, a lightning quick winger for Neath RFC who made his living as a police officer, easily outrunning a drug-addicted, recently released criminal, who within less than a week of being released from prison, was being recalled. I remember watching the chase and thinking it was incredibly exciting but on reflection, it was clearly very serious.

What I didn’t ever feel growing up, was restricted. I never felt that because of where I was living and where I was growing up, that this would affect my life choices or career options. I remember learning about social mobility in school and thinking that it was easily achievable. Certainly moving upwards in social class. Maybe I was naive, maybe I was being ignorant, maybe I was neither and maybe I was both. Now I see that its not been quite as easy for some as it is for others.

We moved out of the council estate when I was about 14 as my parents bought a house in a nearby street. Social mobility in action. At 16, just after leaving school and not knowing what to do with my life I took up a job as a claims handler in an insurance company. It had a referral scheme where I would get £250 if I recommended a friend to come and work there too and so I recommended one of my best friends. After the interview, where he was offered the job, he was clearly not himself. I asked him what was wrong and the interviewing manager had told him that in order to be successful within the company he would need to ‘drop his council estate accent’. Great GCSE’s, brilliant work ethic and yet he was defined in this interview by the way he talked. Disgraceful.

I left the insurance company not long after to take up an apprenticeship in Corus, formerly British Steel and now Tata, at the huge steelworks in Port Talbot. I was immediately thrown into a situation with people of all ages, all academic backgrounds and from all over the world and I distinctly remember feeling welcomed. I had landed this apprenticeship programme because I had good GCSE results and I passed the interview and aptitude test – nothing else mattered. Corus developed me and judged me only on performance, giving me opportunities because they saw potential in me. I owe that company a huge debt. 

Other than being cathartic, writing about my background serves a purpose for this blog post.

Today, on Twitter, one of my #PLN, general CIPD Legend and fellow member of the Bearded Welshmen Club (not an actual club), David D’Souza wrote;-

 

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The last line struck a chord.

An exchange ensued and David pointed me in the direction of an article on Huffington Post with the headline ‘Working Class People Earn £7,000 Less Than Privileged Colleagues, Research Shows’. You should read this article, the link is below. I responded to David by saying that whilst I agree with the article, I find it difficult to accept that it has led to such an impact on me personally. David helpfully encouraged me to be humble, but to follow the data. So i’m trying to do both.

The article itself explains amongst other things that ‘those from poorer backgrounds are less likely to ask for pay rises, have less access to networks and work opportunities or, in some cases, exclude themselves from promotion for fear of not fitting in’. It also explains that other reasons for the ‘class pay gap’ could include , conscious or unconscious discrimination or more subtle employment processes which lead to ‘cultural matching’ in the workplaces’. Even the terminology starts to make me feel uncomfortable.

Why do I find this a difficult subject? Because it has me torn.

This form of discrimination is obviously disgusting and elitism is clearly alive and kicking much to my dismay, and would I have wanted my social background to have been considered at any point in my career thus far, when assessing in particular, my remuneration and worth? Absolutely not. Has it affected me asking for remuneration in line with my value, or affected my ability to build a network? No. Although, its entirely plausible that some of these issues have occurred, without me realising it.

I’ve never, ever wanted people to treat me adversely or negatively in any way because of my working class upbringing and roots, but in the same line of thought, I too don’t ever want it to result in me being treated more favourably either. Like everyone else, I just want to be treated equally.

I don’t want my social background to be a factor at all when considering my level of success. I don’t want to be treated favourably because I have mobilised socially, and I certainly don’t want the ‘haven’t you done well’ type attitude towards me as a result of this either.

But maybe, i’m just one of the survey outliers and my story isn’t common – yet lots of people I grew up with in the same estate or nearby, grew up to be successful, who would also probably be considered ‘established middle class’ in the UK social class system, so maybe we aren’t outliers after all.

But here’s where i’m really torn.

I get that while my situation appears out of sync with how many others are being treated (possibly), hence the research in the article as well as the headline, I get that to address the issue, social background needs in some way to be considered. If only to safeguard against discrimination and close the gap. But how can this be achieved, sensitively, without upsetting people like me.

I have no idea.

So do we underestimate social background in terms of success? I’m sure Dave’s right and we do. But should we consider it at all – not necessarily. If I don’t want to be judged on my social background to be either negatively or positively treated, then why does it even need to be considered. Because working class people earn £7,000 less than priveleged colleagues, that’s why.

As I said, no answers – just my personal experience and opinion.

The song for this post – Merle Haggard – Working Man’s Blues

Huffington Post Article – http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/working-class-pay-social-mobility_uk_588928dae4b02af0a3d57008

Here’s a bit about Chris Higgs and other fantastic Welsh rugby players who were unlucky to never get a Senior squad welsh cap, in case you are interested – http://www.walesonline.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-news/definitive-list-unluckiest-welsh-rugby-9203471

Are we really open-minded?


To consider oneself open-minded is often seen as a badge of honour.
If someone takes a new idea and accepts the concept, it’s considered open-minded. If someone agrees and shows willing to debate their view, it’s considered open-minded. If someone treads into dialogue on a topic they do not understand, without agenda or expectation, it’s considered open-minded.
But thats really only half of what being open-minded is about.
I consider that generally I am an open-minded person, but not naive enough to believe myself to be a completely transparent individual. I have biases, I have views, I have beliefs and I have values just like everyone else, and occasionally, through personality traits all part of human nature, i’m open-minded until I won’t agree with someone else’s view, without justification, but simply due to my own inner code and for a reason I might not be able to explain.

“The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it”  Terry Pratchett.

I’m becoming increasingly concerned with the paradox in our society. Right wing versus left wing, right versus wrong, opinion versus fact. I’m concerned that we’re entering an age where being open-minded is becoming both a sword and a shield, albeit, through selective, often arrogant and ignorant application.

I’m often seeing cases of “you aren’t open-minded because you won’t engage with my narrow-minded view” type attitudes and not just from the more unsavoury sides of the debate. I also hear people ‘respecting other people’s views’ when they don’t, not really. They listen to it, understand it and move on without engaging – often dismissing the viewpoint without contemplating personally as to why they’ve chosen to do that.

Surely, to be truly open-minded, it’s about not just listening to the view of others, but by genuinely being prepared to be wrong, to change your opinion or flex your view if pursuaded to do so, without worrying about saving face, and protecting ego. It has to be about being mature enough to accept that this is normal, that its empowering, and that its human. Having an open-mind has to be about having one, not just telling others that you have one.

To be truly open-minded, in any context, both personally and professionally, we must encourage the eradication of fear of enlightenment, not just fear of disagreement. And it has to be about being open-minded most of the time, and not just when it suits.

Be Like HR

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I read a lot about how HR should be more like other functions. It used to be Finance, currently its Marketing.

I get it, I do and there’s merit to it, but what I want is for HR to be more like… HR.

Yes we should “speak the language of the business” like our finance colleagues, and contextualise our contribution by having a solid grasp of the core nature of our organisations like our operational colleagues have, and of course, yes it’s clearly very useful to think like our marketing partners when promoting our activities to gain buy-in or to develop our employer brand.

HR should be like other departments, but other departments could learn a thing or two from us as well. Any department could be better and should look to be a Frankensteins monster version of themselves.

I want HR to be more like HR, only sometimes better.

I want HR to continue to care about the things no one else will think of or won’t think about with quite as much compassion and detail.

I want HR to continue to tirelessly promote the People agenda, by being mindful of employee wellbeing, personal development, and engagement. Real, authentic, meaningful engagement.

I want HR to continue to be the trusted critical friend of other employees at all levels throughout an organisation, to be the friendly shoulder and empathetic ear.

I want HR to continue to be more credible, leaving the fads behind and implementing tried and tested, evidence-based projects of work that add value to the organisation.

I want HR to continue to be the one department that remembers that the CEO/MD/GM is also an employee too.

Finally I want HR to be confident. Confident that we don’t need to put other departments on a pedestal as something we need to work towards but be confident that if we keep doing what we are doing, if we keep developing, evaluating, enhancing, learning and evolving, then we’ll become the benchmark.

Go and become that benchmark – go and be awesome.

My song for this post – Bon Iver with Holocene which includes my favourite lyric “At once, I knew, I was not magnificent…. I could see for miles, miles, miles”

 

Getting The Boot In Football Management – A Moral Dilemma

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Firstly, happy new year! Like almost everyone else i’m glad to see the back of 2016 and I have higher hopes for the year ahead, although i’m not naive enough to believe this year will not be without its challenges as we continue to deal with the fall out from the events of the year gone by.

So during the Christmas break, amongst the usual things such as spending time with family, eating and drinking too much and catching up on some rest, I did what I love to do at this time of year; I watched the football.

Don’t stop reading just yet if you aren’t a football fan, this isn’t really about sport… much.

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If you follow me on Twitter it is probably impossible for you not to be aware that I am a huge Swansea City fan. I’m not a lifelong fan, I wasn’t really that interested until around 7 or 8 years ago, but I was offered a complimentary seat at a game once and was immediately hooked. I guess some would refer to me as a ‘plastic’ fan but that’s basically a lazy label that a shit-for-brains troll might throw in because they don’t have the basic intelligence to come up with something more creative. Anyway, I digress..

If you are aware of anything to do with football you will know that my team is not doing very well and that is in itself an understatement. We are bottom but one in the Premier League and have just replaced our manager. I’m optimistic, but this isn’t really about that.

Since October 3rd 2016 to December 27th 2016, a total of 85 days and 11 Premier League Games, my team was managed by a chap called Bob Bradley, an American, with no experience of the Premier League and a patchy overall managerial career who was given a poor side and no transfer window to show what he was about. However, in his 11 games, he showed enough to prove that he was out of his depth through implementing poor tactics, apparently losing the dressing room, and making strange team selections.

Egypt's head coach Bob Bradley of the U.S. Looks on during their 2014 World Cup qualifying second leg playoff soccer match against Ghana at Air Defence "30 June" stadium in Cairo

Many wanted Bob Bradley sacked from the get-go due to a view he shouldn’t have been appointed in the first place, but I strongly resisted. I felt this guy deserved a chance. After 7 or 8 games I too was losing my patience. Then came late December. Swansea had conceded 6 goals in the last 2 games and had lost 5 games in the last 8. We were playing West Ham on boxing day and before the game started I tweeted “come on Bradley, prove us all wrong”. We lost 4-1. I had reached the point, like many, many others, where I wanted Mr Bradley to be sacked.

The day after boxing day, Mr Bradley was ‘at work’ having taken training, he was away from his family who were most likely the other side of the world, and I wanted him to lose his job. I hoped he would resign, but either way, I did not want him managing Swansea City anymore.

I’ve probably lost most of my HR readers by this point but if your still reading, i’m getting to the point.

This had me thinking, and thinking, and then thinking some more.

My view on employees having their employment terminated, is that it is almost always a tragic situation. Termination is a failure and for the purposes of this blog post, it doesn’t matter whose failure it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a necessary evil and it will always happen, indeed it comes with the territory in my job and there will always be a need to terminate someone’s employment usually either due to conduct or performance, but just because it has to happen, doesn’t mean i’m comfortable about it. It is not like me to want someone to be dismissed but i’ve understood it when it’s happened to employees in places i’ve worked or when i’ve had to take the decision to terminate someone’s employment myself.

So if my view on termination is as i’ve described above, why did I so passionately believe Mr Bradley should have been given the boot? Why did/do I think its unacceptable in normal employment circumstances to feel one way, but in a sporting/hobby context to feel differently.

I’ve continued to mull this over, and i’ve tried to justify it to myself with the usual “It’s fine, he will have a massive payout” and “it’s part and parcel of the industry” with both statements more than likely being true, but it doesn’t change the fact that someone was brought into a room, told he had failed, and informed he was losing his job, at Christmas time.

I’ve concluded, harsh or not, i’m kind of ok with it for the most part because the contractual process in professional sport is a world I don’t understand, and because it happens so frequently. 27 managers in the four professional leagues have been dismissed so far this season. So due to this being the way in which professional sport has become it is provided for in the contracts in place, hence the ‘massive pay-outs’ that are so widely publicised. I can take some comfort in that although it might be an ‘ignorance is bliss’ strategy on my part.

“Brian Clough didn’t worry again about finance after being paid off by Leeds; he used to say to me it was the best thing that ever happened to him” Neil Warnock interview in The Independent, worth a read by clicking here.

I’ve concluded i’m probably ok with whats happened because many dismissed managers find alternative work fairly swiftly and that contract terminations in football are not usually seen as career-ending incidents but are accepted as very, very normal.

And i’ve concluded i’m probably ok with it because I know it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. It just wasn’t nice.

And despite all that, i’m still uncomfortable with why i’m comfortable about it, if that makes sense.

I have no answers, just something to ponder on.

As a new years resolution, i’ve decided that in each blog post i’m going to embed a song I like that is probably, somehow relevant to the topic. So here’s Led Zeppelin with Dazed and Confused. An absolute classic.