Where Opportunity Leads, Talent Will Follow

Where Opportunity Leads, Talent Will Follow

A recent headline in the Guardian: "Privately educated elite continues to take top jobs..."

I read this story recently and my heart sank.

Don't get me wrong, I'm sure the majority of the nation's judges, brigadiers and war correspondents are worthy of their titles and their six-figure salaries, but with 88% of the UK population being educated at state schools, the news that you're excluded from flying high in these professions unless you paid for your education, leaves me feeling distinctly depressed.

Every year we hear from one business leader or other bemoaning the lack of talent, whining that they have to search further and harder for a decent crop of new starters for their industries.

But I believe those recruiters are actually the ones standing in the way. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that they, and society as a whole, are complicit in holding back the talented young people waiting to be found in those harder to reach places.

We exclude them from upward social mobility by not actively searching them out.We offer internships and work experience to our friends' children, our nieces and nephews, we even hire those with a 100,000 dollar MBA to their name - all the time unconsciously conditioning anyone who doesn't walk and talk like us to believe they won't fit in.

My lightbulb moment came a few years ago when my previous management team and I decided to take the step to remove all qualifications - degrees and exam results - from our entry-level applications. I was determined to unearth a new kind of recruit into the agency with a completely different life experience.

But a handful of businesses making this move isn't enough. I spoke at an event recently about leadership in 21st century business. We talked about the challenges of disruptive technologies, of global insecurities and a lack of direction. We spent only a fleeting moment on the risks of social exclusion.

Not that long ago, half our population faced similar biases, restrictions and barriers to entry. Feminism has spent decades working to change it. I know we haven't fixed all the problems women face in the workplace, and we still have a long way to go to achieve true gender balance, but at least we're having the conversation.

I don't hear enough voices fighting against this other inequality at work. There are single charities and campaigners doing great things, every day trying to level the playing field. But without a coordinated movement to lead the debate, their messages often get lost in the noise.

There's a real and powerful business and economic imperative at work here. More diverse, more representative workforces make better, more profitable work. It's a fact.

In my world, creativity doesn't come sealed with an Oxford and Cambridge examination board stamp. It isn't moulded or carved from just one type of life, skiing on the slopes of Gstaadt.

So let's start another movement. A movement that doesn't only recognise the worth of the privately educated? Let's create one that knows that leadership, vision and innovation can come from less obvious places. Milton Berle believed that 'if opportunity doesn't knock, build a door.'

It's time for us to hand over the keys.


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