Reflections on Structurally Unsound

Charlene White, news anchor for ITV News, reflects on structural inequalities in UK society.

The mantra “you must work twice as hard as your neighbour” rang in my ears daily during my school years. My parents just kept going on and on about it. And I’ll admit . . . I found it annoying. I just wanted to be like some of the other girls and not have to work harder to be heard and understood. Fast forward to my adult years, and I finally got it. It all finally made sense. My entire career thus far has been a whirlwind of working harder than my neighbour in order to reach my goals. 7-day working weeks filled with double and triple shifts. And the unfairness I felt as a schoolgirl has never left. If I’m clearly good enough to do something, why is my currency lessened because I have a vagina, darker skin, and am a proud South East Londoner?

And so that same fighting spirit that my parents instilled in me continues decades later. And the inequality they feared for their children continues, and takes many forms. It’s not just about gender, race, and class — it is sexuality, disability, and so much more. Being good at your job is just not enough for some people. You must ‘fit in’, according to these strict, narrow, and unwritten parameters. Sometimes it often feels like a game with hidden rules that you are never destined to win — and whose goalposts are ever-changing. It’s inequality that can begin from the moment you’re born. How crazy is that?

The simple fact that you’re even reading this probably means that it’s something that you already understand the importance of, can identify with, and/or sympathise with. So writing this feels a bit like preaching to the converted. And that’s why it is important that reports such as Structurally Unsound are spoken about in offices up and down the country.

Those who are the gatekeepers, who are more likely to have never faced inequality, who’ve never had to fight for ‘a seat at the table’ rarely understand the impact their behaviour and choices have on the rest of us who have. And in my experience, rarely care. Thus, leaving our workforce in an ever-present cycle of stagnation — unable to move forward, adapt, and thrive. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given the ‘it makes economic sense’ speech . . . for it to fall on deaf ears.

That’s why Structurally Unsound is so important. If we don’t keep having the conversation, we are destined to keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And I firmly believe (and hope!) that my children will not have to fight the same battles my parents fought and continue to fight . . . but just to be on the safe side, I’ll probably still be telling them to work twice as hard as their neighbour. Just in case.

This piece was originally published on UCL Public Policy’s blog and is taken from the report, Structurally Unsound — Exploring Inequalities: Igniting research to better inform UK policy, published by UCL’s Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality, UCL Public Policy, and the Resolution Foundation.

You can read the full report here.