The Interview: Talking Inclusiveness, Class & Social Mobility

IE magazine is a big fan of equality and diversity in the insurance sector, but if you look at the Boardroom photos that come winging our way via email, you still see a huge majority of white, upper middle class people, at the top table. More women? Yes, but they tend to be overwhelmingly Russell Group Uni/private education in terms of background. Very few working class people seem to make it above a certain level in Banking, Insurance or Law, even in 2021, and we have to ask, why is that, what’s the problem?

To understand how tough the journey can be, IE chatted with Donna Scully, Director at Carpenters Group to find out more.

IE; KPMG recently published a paper where they said they would commit to recruiting 29% of their Partners and Directors from a working class background. It’s a step in the right direction, but you wonder why it’s taken financial services so long to change.

DS; Yes you do wonder why it’s taken such a long time. I did an interview recently talking about quotas and why I think it’s probably the wrong approach. Lots of companies will issue statements on social mobility but when you look at C-Suite level, it just isn’t there. It isn’t good enough that working class people are mainly stuck at at the middle level and not many seem to be able to push through to the very top.

IE; When I started out in insurance at Carole Nash it was refreshing to be at a company where your background didn’t matter, and you saw people join on the call centre desks and progress very fast up the ranks – it was a `can do’ culture. Do you think part of that success is down to having a female Director and founder?

DS; It is up to a point yes, I mean I look to people like Carole because she was such a trailblazer and I always got the impression that much of the success was down to her. She didn’t come from a privileged background and so she was used to proving herself, going the extra mile and keeping customers happy. Guess what? When you have that customer happiness front and centre in your company, then you achieve rapid success, there’s no entitlement there, you try harder to be the best because of where you came from and how hard you worked to get on in life.

Your IE editor on the left, with his brother, on second hand bikes. Nice home haircuts Mam.

IE; You and I share some key economic factors from working class history. We both grew up in small, damp houses, with no central heating, a tin bath and an outside toilet. It is incredible to me that when studying UK history I learned that 25% of all houses in Britain back in 1976 STILL had no indoor bathroom. Do you think coping with that poverty is partly what drives you forwards to achieve career success?

DS; It can be a very long and hard road, you have to be able to cope with setbacks because believe me, you are going to encounter them. This is why I keep telling my story, even though I sometimes think people must be fed up of it. Now and then, someone will email or message and say, I didn’t think people like me could make it, until I saw you on a podcast or read one of your articles.

I really think you have to do this to inspire others to reach up and set foot on the ladder, you have to offer a hand up to the next generation of working class people. They have to see what is possible and go for it – yes, realise it is ambitious and will be hard work, you might have to sacrifice some nights down the pub to study and so on – but in the end, you will make it!

IE; I see on LinkedIn people talk of Imposter Syndrome and that was something I felt as a magazine editor at Yorkshire Post back in the 90s, like I’d just dropped lucky. Do you think that can hold people back sometimes?

DS; Definitely, I felt like such an imposter when I started to make my way in Law. Each time someone asked `which university did you go to for your degree?’ You always feel like you must work harder than those who went to a nice school, easy admission to the right Uni and so on – I mean people are lovely when I speak about my background, they kind of say `ah we really wanted to see you succeed so much.’

But you do, secretly, feel doubts sometimes, like you shouldn’t be there in the Boardroom, well not chairing the meeting anyway.

IE; What irks you about the current diversity thinking in Law and to some extent financial services in general?

DS; Quotas are not the answer. You can commit to hiring more working class people, women, people from the LGBTQ+ community, people with disabilities and people of colour, but if there isn’t a defined career path right to the top, the right culture, environment and role models with loads of training and support, then what does that mean exactly?

That brings me to apprenticeships. You know one term I hate is `low skilled jobs.’ There are no low skilled jobs and I know that because I have done many that may be perceived as such, every role and every level adds value.. There is this danger that apprenticeships are just a way of funnelling working class people into a certain strata, the lower rungs, of the bigger companies. That just isn’t good enough.

At Carpenters you can start in a very junior position and make your way to the Boardroom. We will help you do it if you want that career path. Not everyone does, and that’s fine, but for anyone out there who wants a route to the top then its here at Carpenters, right now.

The 93% Foundation

IE; Tell us a little about the 93% Foundation.

DS; This is so close to my heart. It’s a scandal really that 93% of all uni students are NOT from a working class background, and just 7% are. So the work I do, podcasting and interviews and so on is all about encouraging people to aim high. I feel that you have to pass the baton onwards, extend the ladder back down and welcome people onto it.

This is where so many companies within insurance could help because there are great, creative, talented people out there who just need a bit of encouragement to get into the industry. We can’t just offer working class people the most junior positions in our organisations and say `well, work hard and you’ll be a head of department section head one day,’ we have to lead by example and spread the message that there are real careers here, not just jobs that just pay the bills.

You know it’s still possible to go into a meeting with bigger insurance brands and look around the room and see 70-75% is basically white guys in suits. There has to be real change soon, real diversity of thinking and that means when working class people see C-Suite people they actually see something of themselves in there. When you see a slightly older version of yourself you think `well maybe that could be me one day’ and that’s inspiring in itself. That’s lighting the way.

IE; Donna thank you, really interesting.

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About alastair walker 7450 Articles
20 years experience as a journalist and magazine editor. I'm your contact for press releases, events, news and commercial opportunities at Insurance-Edge.Net

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