Discrimination based off the concept of class has been making it rounds on the internet and local mainstream media. From the varying public responses to the Life Beyond Grades campaign a few weeks back to the most recent (and heartbreaking) coverage by CNA Insider that features young Singaporeans discussing the impact class disparity has on their lives; a lot of conversation, discussion and debate have been generated among Singaporeans from all walks of life. As a nation, it is clear that while our leadership and policies have led us to where we are today, these same policies designed by our leaders have created negative side-effects that all of us are paying for today.
At VanillaLaw LLC, we work with SMEs every day and as an SME ourselves, the recent conversation on class has reminded us of something that we face all the time – the discrimination that SMEs face here in Singapore. Don’t get us wrong, the discrimination is not obtuse, loud or offensive; it exists in the form of microaggressions that only those who are observant can pick up. When the firm first started, our founder Mark received certain choice comments from friends, family, peers and potential clients:
Some were innocent enough:
“You’re still so young and inexperienced.”
Some were a reflection of a certain generation of thinking:
“Why you start your own business? Was it hard to get a job somewhere?”
“How are you going to get business? Got enough clients or not?”
Some did not bother to mince any words:
“To tell you the truth, I am helping you. I could have gone to XXXXX law firm, but I want to give you an opportunity, you know? This case will help you become famous. So…do you think it is possible to do the case pro-bono or give me a discount?”
Truth be told, these little comments/remarks are the result of snap judgments that have been fueled by pre-conceived notions that have been cemented in a specific era from the past. This was 25 years ago when we first started.
On the employment front, even till this day (albeit less often), this mindset persists. It surfaces during conversations with potential candidates, from administrative staff to legal associates. Very often, the priorities of these candidates are remuneration, ‘level of prestige’ and the possibility that our company would be a good ‘training ground’ or ‘stepping stone’ to bigger firms or multi-national companies. It is very rare to discover an individual who steps through our doors with the same like-mindedness of wanting to work in the SME sector.