At TipStart, we are led by the belief that the level of privilege you grow up with should not define the professional opportunities you are afforded. I wrote this blog to reflect on what the idea of privilege means to me and how this has shaped my approach as TipStart’s Chief Impact Officer.
Privilege is a word we use a lot in TipStart, it defines and drives what we do. However, it’s a term that means extremely different things to different people. I used to think you could measure a person's privilege, or lack thereof, in personal identity markers and the accumulated sum in their bank accounts. More and more however, I understand that these elements are only fragments of a bigger picture, one that was painted by people and power structures who have held onto the brush for too long.
When I think about what my privilege is, a few different strands tug at my mind: my race and nationality (white British), my upbringing (stable family, rural Cambridge), my socio-economic status (middle class). But none of these entirely capture the full picture of it - they are merely the bullet points, the ticks on the form. When knotted together in the context of my own experiences, what these strands of personal privilege have created is neither a predetermined path, nor a grand fortune of any sort. What they really created, I think, was a constant and sturdy net of confidence and security. My privilege is not second guessing if I belong when I enter a room, it's not hesitating before making a potentially risky career decision (like taking a pay cut and moving to Kenya as I did last year). My privilege is feeling like no door is closed and knowing that if I found one that was, I have a network that could help me to open it.
The obvious markers of my privilege are for the most part, not things I can shrug off or pass on - they are bound to me, stuck to me, they define me whether I like it or not. But that sense of confidence and security, the networks and relationships that have helped me along the way … these all feel like things that I can share, that I can pass on. It’s this feeling that drew me to TipStart. It drew me to TipStart because more than anything, our mission is to pass on the confidence and ease with which some people are able to navigate the job market and the society that holds it. To widen the net for people who weren’t born with one. There are a lot of things that need to change about the way opportunity is distributed, countless arguments to be won and power to be dispersed - our aim with TipStart was to pick a fight, to scratch a surface.
“It shouldn’t be this hard” is what we heard from those we now call TipStarters. “I want to help make things fairer but what can I really do” is what we heard from those we now call TipSters. At its core, our model is to bring these two voices together in conversation. As Chief Impact Officer, my job at TipStart is to try and make sure that these conversations result in something productive and impactful for both TipStarters and TipSters. My approach in this role rests heavily on the idea that both can learn from one another - that we should be trying to change systems and sectors as well as widening access to them. In practice, this looks like designing a TipStart program that will encourage fruitful and inspiring relationships with exciting professional outcomes. It also involves constantly questioning our approach through talking to those involved - knowing that we won’t get everything right the first time.
TipStart is a social enterprise, meaning we don’t fully get to be free from the talons of business-based decision making and corporate conversations. With this in mind, my role within the management team is to cross check our actions with our vision; to make sure we practise what we preach in every conceivable way. Sometimes this looks like picking a fight about the language we use in our branding, other times it involves championing partnerships with organisations and experts that I feel can help us grow and evolve. I strongly believe that TipStart cannot succeed in a vacuum. Social mobility is an all of society problem that needs a systemic approach, one that mobilises a diverse ecosystem of actors. Going forward my focus will be on how TipStart can co-create and contribute to this ecosystem by forging new partnerships and sharing what we learn in communities of practice.
Ultimately, impact is a word that reminds me of privilege, a concept that people think they understand instinctively and can measure objectively. However, I have worked to ensure that the impact of TipStart goes deeper. I want people to describe their experience of the program as a success not just because they got an amazing job or built an enriching personal connection, but because it made a guarded system feel more welcoming, an uncertain landscape feel a little less shaky.
If you or your organisation share this vision for redefining professional networks and widening access to traditionally exclusive sectors, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can work together.