Overcoming the entitlement gap and imposter syndrome – Enabling workforce diversity
The other day, an article in the Financial Times caught my eye. It covered the extent to which working class aspirant actors can access the profession via stage school or other means. A subject close to my own heart, I was pleased to learn that it is a topic of increasing interest and that there are a growing number of initiatives to widen participation in this form of the arts.
In all professions and pursuits, the question of class prevails and the rhetoric of social mobility remains constant across political parties and successive rafts of policies. Class is a hard concept to define and accurately measure. There has been a significant amount of academic research undertaken to develop metrics that are reliable with regard to classification, and there are numerous (often dubious) online quizzes you can take to ascertain your own position. Debatably, identification with any given cohort is not dependent upon income, background or profession; it is about perception. This is where the issue becomes interesting with regard to ensuring that the workforce, at all levels in all sectors, is appropriately representative of society.
Within said article, the actor David Mumeni speaks eloquently about the extent to which young actors do not see Drama School as being “achievable”, leading them to believe that they do not “have the right” to be in the audition room. He describes this as the “entitlement gap”, a phenomenon that is surely visible in career progression the world over.
Within many walks of life there is notable disproportionate representation. The number of UK Prime Ministers that have studied at Oxford University; diversity in applications and acceptance to the Bar; female participation in STEM careers – the list is endless. We now understand that this is due to multiple factors that vary hugely according to circumstance and setting, but we haven’t yet cracked the conundrum of how to make it better. This leads me to speculate that there is space for the “entitlement gap” to weave into all of those narratives. Class is just one piece in the jigsaw.
I don’t think that this is an easy nut to crack. Support, mentoring, sponsorship, creation of opportunity, access, flexibility, role models, fair pay, equal pay, working conditions, training, emboldenment and clarity of expectation all have a part to play in ensuring a workplace (or, more broadly, a sector) allows everyone to thrive. I believe the story goes further still as “the entitlement gap” has a sibling who picks up the baton, helping to ensure that its legacy lives-on. “Imposter syndrome”, where hard-won success cannot be accepted by the owner on account of a lack of self-belief, is something that many of us will have either experienced or seen in colleagues. It stymies productivity and creativity, negatively impacting upon the bottom line and perhaps more importantly, limiting talent in the fulfilment of its potential.
Whilst arrogance can never be congratulated, if a little of it could rub off on those who are most capable yet doubt their right to be there, we would all surely benefit. A classroom, lecture-hall, audition-room, training ground or workplace full of smugness and self-congratulatory behaviours paves the way to back-biting and complacency which is a truly toxic-mix, but surely we have the capacity to instil self-belief at all levels of our society to help create a truly diverse workforce.
Elizabeth James is a Partner and leads the Education Practice at Berwick Partners