‘Be­ing from the North still holds me back’

The North-south di­vide isn’t just in Game Of Thrones. It’s real, says Liver­pudlian Jes­sica Evans

Grazia (UK) - - Contents -

when i ar­rived in Lon­don five years ago, I thought the city would be an open and in­clu­sive place to ex­pand my hori­zons. But de­spite many amaz­ing, pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences and mak­ing won­der­ful friends, there have been times in my pro­fes­sional ca­reer that I’ve re­alised this city I now call home prob­a­bly isn’t as di­verse as it likes to be­lieve, es­pe­cially if you’re from the North.

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey by ITV/ Com­res of more than 6,000 adults from across the UK, 28% of Brits say they have ex­pe­ri­enced prej­u­dice for hav­ing a re­gional back­ground and ac­cent. That doesn’t sur­prise me. Like many other North­ern­ers work­ing here, I find my­self rou­tinely – in­ten­tion­ally or not – pi­geon­holed as less ed­u­cated, less on-trend, and es­sen­tially lower class, just be­cause my ori­gins lie a few hun­dred miles fur­ther up the coun­try.

Take my ac­cent. I was work­ing at a news agency when my for­mer ed­i­tor asked the team if any­one wanted to do the voiceover for our celebrity red-car­pet videos. No one vol­un­teered, so I put my­self for­ward. I was im­me­di­ately made to re­gret the de­ci­sion when he told me my enun­ci­a­tion ‘was sim­ply not pro­fes­sional enough to be con­sid­ered’.

Fur­ther into my ca­reer, I worked on a cul­ture desk with a man­ager who of­ten made cut­ting re­marks about how it sur­prised him that I’d ‘ended up’ on this desk, as a Liver­pudlian. ‘ What could you know about cul­ture?’ he laughed in front of the team, as I in­ter­nally listed our sta­tus as Euro­pean City of Cul­ture, birth­place of the Bea­tles and the fact we have more gal­leries and mu­se­ums than any other Bri­tish city out­side of the cap­i­tal.

It didn’t stop. My next role was on a news­pa­per where, in meet­ings, a se­nior col­league would mock my ac­cent every sin­gle time I spoke up, mak­ing crude im­pres­sions, largely con­sist­ing of sing-song noises like ‘dey do doe, don’t dey doe’. Not be­ing taken se­ri­ously in work of­ten felt like I was al­ways on the back foot, fight­ing twice as hard for my place as my South­ern peers.

The ITV study found that this prej­u­dice thrived ‘along the North-south, “us and them” fault-lines of old’ – this lack of recog­ni­tion of the skills of a per­ceived ‘out­sider’ was purely a bold-faced bid to main­tain the sta­tus quo, the same as sex­ism and racism. An­other study, by law firm Penin­sula, re­vealed that eight in 10 em­ploy­ers ad­mit to mak­ing dis­crim­i­nat­ing de­ci­sions based on re­gional ac­cents. But it wasn’t that I wasn’t get­ting jobs. One of my first roles was at my favourite high fash­ion mag­a­zine. The edi­tors had seen fit to re­cruit me, but I was soon made to re­alise there was an in­nate di­vide be­tween the team’s priv­i­leged in­sou­ciance and my cheer­ful, work­ing class en­thu­si­asm at be­ing lucky to be there.

One of the girls chuck­led about how she’d never crossed paths with a Scouser who worked in fash­ion be­fore. An­other sharply quipped that I was ‘too friendly’ when I’d made small talk with the cleaner in the kitchen. The desk girls would have ‘cham­pagne Fri­days’ to which I was never in­vited and I’d al­ways mys­te­ri­ously have to ‘man the desk’ as they swanned off to lunchtime gym classes.

I tried my best to win them over, but af­ter three months in the job, my line man­ager called me in for a re­view. I was told my stan­dard of work and at­ti­tude was great. She said I was of­fer­ing ‘clever and fresh’ ideas and copy for the mag­a­zine. But then she dropped the bomb­shell: I wasn’t ‘on brand’. My work was fault­less, but be­ing me in the team wasn’t work­ing. ‘ You haven’t done any­thing wrong,’ she told me. ‘It’s just about fit­ting in. Are you happy here? I think you’d be more com­fort­able some­where else.’ She wanted me to hand in my no­tice.

And so I did – what else could I do? That night I went home and, through frus­trated tears and mouth­fuls of Domino’s, ap­plied for a new job – for less money. So be­ing North­ern led to me earn­ing less, too.

I know I’m not alone in ex­pe­ri­enc­ing these things. Beauty buyer Katie Hughes from Manch­ester found her­self adapt­ing her voice to be taken se­ri­ously. ‘I used to hate speak­ing to “posh” clients be­cause I’d see peo­ple laugh­ing as I spoke. For the first time ever, I felt ashamed of my North­ern back­ground when I moved to Lon­don.’

i find my­self pi­geon­holed as less ed­u­cated, less on-trend and lower class

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