Guest post: It’s not always easy for them

Originally a comment by guest on America’s exceptionally low social mobility.

One of the most striking differences I noticed when I moved from the US to the UK was how many people I met in professional/work circles who had literally ‘worked their way up’–the country/sector director of the large company I worked for in my first job here had started as an apprentice in the ’70s. I don’t think I ever knew anyone in the US who’d done this (I thought I had, but when I mentioned this years ago a catty friend revealed the advantages this person, whose persona was that of someone from an underprivileged background who’d ‘made good’, had actually started with).

I’ve met dozens of people here (almost all women–but that might just be because I spend more time talking with women) in my generation and younger who were the first in their families to get university degrees and professional jobs. It’s not always easy for them–I was actually talking with one the other night, a woman from a ‘deprived’ background who has a PhD from Oxford, who (like plenty of others) pointed out that while it’s certainly a positive thing for Oxbridge to work to get ‘diverse’ students into their programs they’re not so good at acknowledging and making explicit the tacit assumptions and behaviour norms that can make the experience a minefield for an outsider, which can lead to retention problems, and potentially psychological/emotional damage.

On kind of a tangent, I’m realising that my father was actually the first in his family to get a degree and professional job (my mother finished high school, and was a SAHM)–I’ve thought before (and perhaps have even commented to this effect on this blog) that while it meant that although he earned enough to provide us with a ‘nice’ house in the suburbs and plenty of money, and we never went without, physically, my parents had no idea how to support their children into professional careers themselves, or that they even should or had to, and may not have been able to do anything about it (re informal networking, positioning, etc) even if they had.

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