Is Meritocracy a Myth?

Is Meritocracy a Myth?

We need to stop lying to working class students about academic achievement being the key to success.

Article written by Afolabi Oliver

The idea of meritocracy, whereby reward is proportionate to effort and ability, is both seductive and deceptive. Defenders of modern capitalism have come to depend on it. But without equality of opportunity – something British society clearly lacks – the idea is hollow.

My journey to a relatively successful career in finance started in a south London state school where visits by the police (in their professional capacity, not to hand out badges and stickers) were far more frequent than those from careers advisers or inspirational professionals. Despite dangers and distractions, I achieved the grades and demonstrated the passion, aptitude and intellectual curiosity to take a place at Cambridge University. After graduating from one of the best universities in the world, conventional logic would suggest I was a valuable commodity entering the labour market and destined for a top job. Well, not quite.

At this point I should probably mention the fact that I’m from a working-class background with a mother who is half-Nigerian and half English and a father who is Jamaican (i.e. I’m black, or mixed race depending on your perspective). Both race and class identifiers are important because the overlap of ‘working class’ on ‘black’ is significant in the Venn diagram of the UK population. Whilst being working class is a significant disadvantage, which may be more significant than race in terms of pursuing an elite career, the fact that so many black people are working class means that there is insufficient black representation and cultural influence in elite professions. It’s the mixture – what sociologists call intersectionality, that harms life chances the most. And put simply, racism (explicit, institutional, tacit or unconscious) is real and alive in British society.

Class and race both have an effect on success (photo from Thinglink)

Employers want more than good grades
By the time I entered the labour market I had already been the first one in my family to graduate from university through the traditional route (my mother obtained her degree from the Open University). I evaded the temptations, peer pressure and intimidation of the streets. It is therefore ironic that I was then told that I hadn’t demonstrated enough passion to pursue an elite career.

Mostly this was explained as a failure to take advantage of opportunities that I had no idea existed. I now know of things that I could have done to distinguish myself and improve my chances; however, my problem wasn’t a lack of effort but direction. Unsurprisingly, direction tends to be more elusive when you don’t know any elite professionals that can direct you.

Class barriers are not exclusive to the selection process. Assignments, access to senior influencers and development support may not be distributed in an equitable manner. Many end up leaving, being pushed out or ‘convinced’ that a career elsewhere is in everyone’s best interests.

If my personal experiences hinted that these cultural barriers existed, the experiences of a close relative (10 years my junior) convinced me. He achieved a first-class degree in Economics from a Russell Group university and secured a tech consultancy job in a Big Four firm. This opportunity was short-lived. He was made to feel unwelcome and marginalised for failing to adapt to the culture of the business. His most notable indiscretion was using his car allowance to lease a vehicle that, while fully within his employers’ parameters, was considered too ‘flash’, especially when his immediate superiors had opted for sensible hatchbacks.

We need to coach working class students to succeed
Elite professions should ascribe greater value to the drive, resilience and hunger demonstrated by working class applicants, rather than penalising them for lacking polish, guidance and social capital. However, rather than waiting for this, I favour a new approach which teaches workplace survival skills to academically gifted students from underrepresented backgrounds. We need to give those without the luxury of social capital access to successful and relatable figures from elite professions and industries before they step into an interview room with them. We need to instil confidence, self-value and a sense of belonging so that they feel entitled enough to demand a place at the table (and can later describe their entitlement as hunger!).

I teach young people I meet that they are empowered to shape their own reality I also explain what I actually do at work. Many of these students come from environments where they are all too familiar with a pervading sense of fear and insecurity. We need to ensure they are not afraid to ask questions, ask for work experience, ask for access or ask for exposure. Don’t be afraid of ‘no’ and don’t be deterred by rejection and setbacks. When elite professionals describe the secrets of their success, they emphasise personal characteristics and pivotal interactions, not grades and qualifications.

There will always be those who achieve against the odds. I know many, and I am proud of my journey. But it is not a battle I have come through unscathed. If we are serious about creating a fairer and more meritocratic society where talent and effort is not eclipsed by connections and charm, we need to shorten those odds.

That requires us to stop telling the lie that academic achievement is the most important factor in professional success or elite employment opportunities. It is a lie that I was told, and a lie I had to unpick through first- and second-hand experiences. To lie to a new generation, whether about meritocracy or what determines success, would be a betrayal of us all.

Afolabi Oliver is co-founder of the charity KEY Sessions.

 

 

Student Loans Uncovered

Student Loans Uncovered

Are you excited about going to uni but worried about debt?

If you answered ‘Yes’ fear not, as we aim to help ease your concerns over the D-word. FirstIy, ignore newspaper headlines about students leaving university with £50k of debt – this is a meaningless figure, what matters is how much you’ll repay, and unlike other loans, student loans DON’T go on your credit file.

Now the phrase ‘student loan repayment’ often scares people, especially to young people from low-income backgrounds. Families from low-socioeconomic status (SES) households tend to have little income or wealth to buffer against unforeseen circumstances, therefore are often risk averse. Accordingly, many parents from low-income families are reluctant for their child(ren) to apply to university to avoid the prospect of accumulating debt. Ironically, what we call a student repayment isn’t really a debt like any other, in fact it acts far more like a graduate contribution fee than a loan.

Seven Key Things to Remember…

  1. you only contribute after you graduate and if you earn enough  i.e. £25,000 in a year
  2. student loan repayments are taken via payroll i.e. a process used by employers to pay your salary after deducting Income Tax and NI contributions.
  3. the more financially successful you are, the more you will contribute in total
  4. if you don’t earn enough, you don’t have to contribute!
  5. you only have to contribute for 30 years, after that your remaining debt is written off
  6. bigger borrowing doesn’t increase repayments
  7. you can repay student loans early

For more information and useful guidance about the truth about university fees, student loans and grants, please check out the Student Loans Mythbusting article and apply for Pink Dynasty membership to gain full access to resource centre, and free admissions onto our money essentials workshops.

Best of luck!!

 

Applications Open

Applications Open

Applications for 2019/20 membership is now open!

We are delighted to open applications for our Rising Star scheme that provides 15 young women with leadership, personal and professional development.

Membership benefits

As well as the opportunity to be mentored by a professional for 12 months, successful applicants also receive free :

  • personalised careers’ advice
  • access to personal finance workshops
  • dedicated support securing paid internships

What we look for in a Mentee

Pink Dynasty candidates generally fit the following description:

  • Aged 18 – 22
  • Demonstrates a strong level of tenacity and ambition
  • In full-time education or full-time training
  • Actively involved in the community via volunteering schemes
  • Received (or is receiving) financial support from the government or other official entity

If you don’t meet the above criteria, please consider applying for our Pro or Business plans – click here for more info. 

How to apply 

To apply, prospective candidates must answer the following questions:

  1. I want to join Pink Dynasty because…
  2. What women’s empowerment means to me…

Submission instructions

Write an essay (250 words max) answering the above questions and send along with an updated copy of your CV to hello@pinkdynasty.org

Deadline – September 12th, 2019. 

Please note that only shortlisted candidates will be invited to attend a 45 minute interview with select members of the PD Management team and representatives from our partner institutions.

Successful applicants will be informed via email, together with additional information on the upcoming year’s programme. In the event that you are unsuccessful on this occasion, an email, together with some feedback on your application, will also be shared with you.

Next steps…

Follow us on Instagram, Facebook , and LinkedIn for details about our upcoming events and workshops!

A Seat at the Table

A Seat at the Table

With the support of the Diane Abbott Foundation, we hosted an event called ‘A Seat and the Table’ in the House of Commons yesterday (November 28). Our goal was to empower young women from marginalised backgrounds to have their voices heard in the place where our country’s policies and laws are debated.

Generally the term “having a seat at the table” is reserved for those who are considered to have both the influence and power to make decisions and effect change.

But there is much more behind coming to the table than simply taking a seat.

During the discussion, we came to the conclusion that “having a seat at the table” is about seizing the opportunity to be heard, becoming the voice for those who are marginalised, and work with those who hold power to make positive changes in society, that benefits all people not just the elite.

  

Many thanks to our special guests Anna-Maria Ronnqvist (Strong Woman World Champion), Cuppy (International DJ and Philanthropist), and Geraldine Haley (Executive Leadership Coach) for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their stories about the path to leadership in predominantly male environments.

Last but not least, thanks to all the attendees for participating in such an inspiring debate, we truly appreciate your support and hope to see you again at future events!

Britain’s Social Mobility Problem

Britain’s Social Mobility Problem

It goes without saying that Britain has an extreme social mobility problem. Research from the government’s latest social mobility report confirms, “that from the early years through to higher education and the workplace, there is an entrenched and unbroken correlation between social class and success”, State of The Nation – Social Mobility in Great Britain (2017). Unfortunately, the UK’s social mobility problem is even worse for women and individuals from ethnic minority groups. To address the social mobility problem facing women and ethnic minorities in the UK, I founded Pink Dynasty CIC in 2013, with the goal of dismantling the non-educational barriers to elite professions in the UK by empowering, preparing and supporting gifted young women (particularly those from ethnic minority groups) for high-income careers. Please refer any talented young women (from 18-22 years old) who you believe can benefit from mentoring, leadership development, help with finding a job or starting a business, my team and I would love to chat!

Best,

Adeola Onasanwo

 

Hiding Behind A Smile

Hiding Behind A Smile

We recently conducted a survey to uncover the challenges, needs and wants of the PD Alumni. The results were insightful, 100% of the respondents conveyed a strong desire to be accepted for who they are. Although our members are incredibly bright and confident young women, many (if not all) still struggle with showing their true selves. In a society that praises beauty, accomplishment, and wealth, it seems women will never be good enough unless they appear to have it all. Hiding behind a smile is among the key ways young women combat the pressures of superficiality to discover their passions, pleasures, and purposes.

Here at Pink Dynasty, we believe it is imperative to have honest discussions about anxiety and depression, there are so many people suffering in silence, too afraid to open up about their personal/professional challenges. Accordingly, we are keen to help our members and other young women manage stress, particularly during difficult times.

By providing everyday examples of women managing overwhelming expectations, this opens the door for candid, life-changing conversations about life and inspires young women to be themselves!

 

To take part in our #BehindMySmile campaign, please email hello@pinkdynasty.org.

Many thanks,

PD Management