THE BLOG

What Should 2017 Be The Year Of? Removing Inequality

13/03/2017 11:43

It's funny how true the old adage is, that things are like buses, you wait for ages for one and then they come in threes. A psychologist would no doubt point out that once you have thought about something, you have a heightened awareness of that thing and are more likely to notice it as a result. How that works with buses I don't know, but it certainly worked recently for me.

I had been mulling over Bus No. 1 a lot in 2016. An extraordinary year which put politics centre stage for almost the first time in many people's lives. It was a year when inequality also raised its head - not just the differences between the comparative ease of western living vs developing countries, but the differences on our doorstep. Between rich and poor, highly-educated and less so, those who fortune has favoured (for whatever reason, mostly to do with education and where they were born) and those who it has not. Between those who globalisation has presented huge opportunities for and those who it has left behind.

Business wise, 2016 was a stupendous year for my company. From something I started 15 years ago in my basement with my two fantastic business partners, Ben and Chris, it's grown to become its own micro global with offices in the UK, the US and the United Arab Emirates, delivering projects for clients all over the world. We won a Queen's Award for Enterprise, for our success in International Trade and were named as B2B Agency of the Year by one of the most reputable journals in our sector.

The comparison is the problem in microcosm perhaps. Our success, and that of our clients, means that our staff and the families they support, do well. But outside that, many people in the UK are 'just managing'. Whilst we thrive, we have to accept that many do not. What was interesting about the Brexit vote was that many of the people who voted to leave were those who lived in areas where they are highly reliant on immigrant labour or who work for companies who compete for global contracts and need to win them in order to survive. If we weren't part of the global stage, the economy would crash. But people voted against that in favour of 'taking back control'. One wonders what they think they will do with that control?

And how to respond to this inequality? The way we all respond is by doing good deeds. Giving work experience to Year 11 students, supporting charities, speaking at careers evenings. But it's just putting a plaster on the problem. Make yourself feel better by giving some money away and pretend that you're making a difference when in fact you're not. There has to be another way.

Of course there are some well-established organisations and many businesses who work in the community - but I feel that CSR is more about salving the corporate conscience. By letting people do good works in their local community, we all feel better. But we don't make a real difference. I'm not sure the UK Government's apprentice scheme is necessarily the entire solution, but I hope it will encourage more companies like ours to take on those with lower levels of education and give them an entrée into the workforce.

So, it was perfect timing for Bus No. 2 to arrive, with a story about how one of the really big global consultancies is working with schools in disadvantaged areas to identify the bright kids who are being held back by their environment and could flourish in their particular, and supportive, workplace. Taking young people from less privileged backgrounds and giving them an education - as well as a job - are more like it in my view. It will provide an ongoing benefit to those kids and their families, not a one-off.

And even better, Bus No. 3 - an initiative a business contact has just launched to get apprentices into marketing and agency roles. I've always felt that the creative services industry was one where you could succeed no matter what your background, gender, colour or creed. Education and ability do matter but there are plenty of examples of highly successful people in our sector whose ability made up for their lack of traditional educational qualifications. If we can identify the talent and build their skills via training that would be a great step forward in ensuring that creative businesses are really levelling the playing fields. It's a bus we can all jump on.

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