The term ‘privilege’ is quickly becoming the third rail of polite conversation. Don’t believe me? Try casually bringing it up the next time you’re in class or at a recruiting event. One of two scenarios will most likely unfold: either you’ll be met with silence and the topic will quickly change, or it will escalate into a heated debate.
So why do I raise this controversial topic when we’re celebrating Capital W’s tenth anniversary? When I was asked to write this article, I reflected on the key things that enabled Capital W to get off the ground – the tenacity and ingenuity of the founding team; the confidence our original sponsors had in us; and the support we received from UNSW. However, it also made me realise, with the benefit of hindsight, that the privileges that I enjoy in life had placed me in a great position to establish Capital W.
Privilege is an unearned advantage that’s given by society to some people but not all. Let’s unpack this definition. First, privilege arises from things we don’t control. Second, in everyday life, privilege is nuanced – in some circumstances we have it, but in others, we don’t. This might seem like a trivial distinction, but it can be incredibly empowering. In my more cynical moments, I dwell on the fact that I face a corporate ceiling made of both glass and bamboo, and I under-appreciate the privileges that have allowed me to influence my environment in some situations. For me, founding Capital W was one of those situations.
Thanks to my middle-class upbringing, I attended a private school targeted by the UNSW Co-op Program. Winning a Finance Co-op Scholarship meant that I could socialise with like-minded students, connect with key members of the business faculty, and form relationships with corporate sponsors. This helped me put forward a strong application for the exchange programme to The Wharton School, where I became inspired by the work of Wharton Women in Business. As a result, when I returned to UNSW with a plan to launch Capital W, I already had a close-knit group of peers to work with, access to university support, and a network of top tier sponsors to tap.
Let me be clear: the fact that Capital W benefitted from my privilege does not diminish all the hard work that many people contributed into making the organisation the success that it is today. Nor am I saying that privilege is something we should perpetuate or celebrate. The simple fact is that privilege exists – many of us must overcome undeserved disadvantages, but also enjoy unearned advantages.
My founding vision for Capital W was to encourage young women to pursue bolder challenges in the hope they would become future business leaders. A quick scan of the headlines and the statistics show that as a society, despite some progress, we still have a fair way to go. As we look forward, this is my challenge to you: be aware of your privileges so you can be opportunistic in the very best sense of the word. Look for circumstances where your privilege presents a chance to push the barrier for you and for others. Seize it. Add to the 1,000 cracks in the ceiling. Change the system.
Founder and Former President of Capital W