There’s been a fair bit of media outcry (in the United States) on all sides of the aisle around wealth of late. The issue at the heart of most of the outcry is that it seems wealthy folks, with few exceptions, want to be termed self made. And, no one (again – with few exceptions) wants to acknowledge the role privilege played in their success.
Amidst all this noise, The Atlantic shared an important interview with two British researchers who decided to immerse themselves in the cultures of workplaces in four settings – a TV-broadcasting company, a multinational accounting firm, an architecture firm, and the world of self-employed actors. Here are two ways in which they found privilege to show up.
First, financial cushion enabled actors to take low paying jobs to get their start while also enabling others to take important unpaid internships or to live in a city like London where there are more opportunities. Imagine attempting to do any of this with the pressure of having to support a family or pay back debt.
Second, at work, they found it easier to find sponsors who found themselves reminded of themselves while also finding it easier to understand the unwritten norms that folks who are relatively unexposed struggled with.
Of course, this won’t make for a popular media story. Forbes, for example, has a category in their billionaire lists called “Self made who got a head start from wealthy parents and moneyed background.”
But, this research is a start. In time, I’m hopeful we’ll begin to see a lot more data that points to the massive role privilege plays in success. We need to stop downplaying its role so as to build systems that result in broader equity and access.
It will take time. But, I’m optimistic we’ll get there.
PS: I haven’t read this yet – but the authors mentioned above have written a book called “The Class Ceiling: Why it Pays to be Privileged”
PPS: A reminder on how I think about privilege and success.