We all know that one of the big truths around life and career is that it isn’t fair. I find that getting people to accept this basic truth is one of the main conversations that you end up having when you are talking to people about career.
“But, the psychometric that they are using has been proven to have no validity”
“But it is basically impossible to meet their requirements if you have taken maternity leave.”
“I can’t publish as much as other people because I have too much marking to do”
And so on.
The answer to all of these issues is firstly “well, yes, life isn’t fair”. But the second has to be “what are you going to do about it?” Doing something about the unfairness of life and career often ends up as an individual response. It is probably quicker to recognise that life isn’t fair and to compensate for it (working harder or cheating) or to become accommodated to it (recognise that your failure isn’t due to your lack of ability). However it is always to possible to think – life isn’t fair and to try and do something about the unfairness.
Some people would say that merely succeeding in an unfair world is doing something about the unfairness. These people argue that when enough women/working class people/disabled people etc. get to the top they will change the system. The problem with this is that (a) the decks are stacked against this ever happening – remember life is unfair and (b) when those people get to the top they often forget where they came from or feel that since they made it to the top in an unfair system actually anyone can.
Personally I’m not sure that waiting for exceptional people to break through the unfairness is the best solution. If we want life and career to be less unfair we have to start to change things at a systemic level rather than merely push champions through and hope that they will chuck scraps down. This means doing something that is political, it means organising collectively and agitating to bring about change through pressure groups, trade unions and other collective bodies. It is only when we start to point out the unfairness loudly enough and suggest less unfair ways to achieve it that we have a chance of making a difference.
So for all of you who are out there having career conversations with people, think about this. When you are talking to someone about the unfairness of life help them to see that unfairness clearly. Clarity will help them to place the blame where it belongs, it will help them to identify strategies to over come it, but it should also encourage them to want to change the unfairness and not merely to step round it. Sometimes (often) this will mean developing collective solutions rather than individual ones. But, sometimes (often) it is only through these collective solutions that career development really becomes available to all.