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Working-class children in companies: "Leading a team was outside of my reality"


Stefanie Mattes was the first to study in her family, then made a career. She knows derogatory sayings from headhunters - and knows when a youth without skiing becomes a penalty.

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»Newcomer« founder Stefanie Mattes: »I was a late bloomer«



Ms. Mattes, did you ever think of becoming a boss as a child?


I've always wanted to be the boss.

I grew up in the village, where I was always the gang leader.

But leading a team in a company - that was outside of my reality.

In my environment there was no one who had made a career in a company.

So I couldn't imagine anything about it.


According to the Stifterverband, only 27 percent of elementary school students will later start studying from a non-academic household.

In the case of academic children, the figure is 79 percent.


Accordingly, few working-class children end up making a career in companies - and they are in the minority there.

You can't tell at first glance whether someone comes from an academic household, how financially they were funded in childhood or how great their self-worth is.

Nevertheless, it can lead to a difference in behavior.


To what extent?


My favorite example: a skiing holiday.

If you come from a precarious household, you often haven't learned to ski.

If you are planning a trip to the mountains as a team, you simply cannot participate.

Conversely, colleagues may have a strange feeling that is difficult to pin down.

You don't really belong to it.


When did you realize that you had disadvantages compared to the children of academics?


I was a late bloomer. I only realized two or three years ago that I was on the move. At that time, I wanted to change my career and had contact with headhunters. I don't usually tell that my parents worked in nursing. At that time I dropped it in a subordinate clause - and a headhunter said to me: Well, then please be glad you got this far. Another said that my résumé was okay, but that I didn't have the network to go up.

My career was not the easiest, there were always challenges - but I would not have thought that it was partly because I had little support.

Then a few years ago I thought: Maybe this doesn't just affect my life, it is a structural problem.


Is that why you founded “climbers”?


The initial spark came when I myself was a mentor at various organizations. The aim of a program: to accompany children with difficult starting conditions, for example with mentoring, from elementary school to high school, so that they can develop their skills. In 2018 I had two similarly talented female mentees of the same age. One was an unaccompanied refugee from Afghanistan, who was therefore only able to do her Abitur at the age of 21. Between high school and university, she then had to work subject to social security in order to be covered by health insurance. She worked in a fashion chain. The other was in Hong Kong for three months at the same time as her bachelor's degree. Two completely different résumés.

Now we are connecting working-class children and specialists and executives in companies as mentors and mentees with “climbers”.

In this way, they can exchange their stories, their knowledge and their experiences on an equal footing and gain access to networks that can be helpful for their own career.


Working-class children sometimes have the feeling that they don't belong even before they get their first job.

How many times during your law school did you think you were out of place?


I studied law mainly because it was a compromise with my parents.

They wanted me to make safe money.

Back then I needed someone to tell me how important a plan B is.

Up to a certain point everything always worked if I only learned properly.

I passed two state exams, then I wanted to enter the diplomatic service - and failed the entrance exam for the Foreign Office.

Today I tell my mentees first: work out a plan B so that the hole you fall into is not so deep.


This advice is certainly not only helpful for working-class children.


Others often don't fall that deep.

After that I was unemployed and had to quickly see where my money was coming from.

I don't want to generalize, but children with an academic background often have the opportunity to bridge such times financially.

Usually there is a plan B or C - and people who can support the network in planning and implementation.


What else are working-class children fighting against?


As a working class child, you often wander between two worlds. Sometimes the parents cannot understand what one is actually doing. Just recently, someone who works in the home office told me about his parents' visit. Three or four days later his mother called him - to make sure that he wasn't doing anything illegal. She thought: If you sit at your computer all day, you can't make any money. This can be difficult, especially when you are young and still feel dependent on the acceptance of your parents. You feel like you've found the right path for yourself - but your parents don't understand or support it.

And at the same time you can feel uncomfortable or undesirable among colleagues who have a different background.

With one you are not really outside, with the other you are not really inside.

You have to learn to endure this transition and perhaps even to position yourself clearly.

Ideally, one understands how to deal with this area of ​​tension and not to pretend.


And how?


By repeatedly interweaving something of your own background in stories, you can see what is happening and whether the other person asks with interest.

Events from childhood have shaped the personality and shaped one's own behavior.

In many companies there is now talk of equal pay and women in management positions.

Discussions about the social background are still too seldom.

That it is neither good nor bad per se when life paths run differently - this transparency must first be established in many companies.


More and more companies boast of recruiting various female applicants.

In management positions, however, there are often still those with big names on the résumé.

Mattes: The

fact that someone worked at McDonald's should be on their résumé as well as internships or a semester abroad. It is not a plus point, but above all it must not be a minus point. Managers should therefore specifically encourage in job advertisements to make such activities transparent. There are no gaps. Similar to the quota of women on executive boards, it is about the exchange of perspectives and diversity. If there is not just one person on the team who has achieved social advancement, but three, the discussions, stories and competencies also change. Many mentors tell me: their mentees have tremendous power. To go such a path without a network and support often requires a lot of willpower.


How can bosses support working-class children in the company? It is not always clear which employee is from where.


Then you should take the time to tell your employees' stories.

For me, this is what distinguishes a good manager.

This ultimately results in strengths and which positions employees can ideally occupy in the company.

If colleagues or department heads are not aware of disadvantages due to social background, it is often not malicious.

It is therefore worthwhile for managers to point out that not everything is performance-based.

Some people are only able to do certain things because of their privileges, others are denied them.

At the end of the day, it's about thinking more about equal opportunities again.


What did you learn about leadership from your parents?


Because they were employed in a hospital, I couldn't learn anything from them about direct staff management. But I know that they shaped my personality and my values ​​that set me apart as a leader today.

A hospital is a very hierarchical organization.

I remember how angry stories about them at the kitchen table made me.

About some doctors who, despite their experience and competence, my parents did not appreciate and who openly showed it.

I saw how much they worked: my mother worked night shifts, my father worked full-time - and together they raised four children.

Conversely, my parents never devalued people who were supposedly below them in this structure.

I learned from them the importance of respect, integrity and appreciation - just like the revolutionary behavior when someone is treated badly.

Source: spiegel

All business articles on 2021-12-25

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