Fostering Inclusion and Navigating a Career: My Masterclass with Dr Hannah White

Martha is pursuing a BA in Politics and Sociology at the University of Sheffield and has a particular interest in social policy after engaging in campaigns surrounding period poverty and climate justice prior to her undergraduate study and running a political education project for KS2 students whilst in her second year at Sheffield. Recently volunteering in the office of a Labour MP, and going on to complete an internship with the Department for Work and Pensions in the coming weeks, Martha hopes the Patchwork Masterclass Programme will allow her to deepen her understanding of public affairs and political life in a variety of sectors and learn from the inspirational and engaging figures with whom she will have Masterclasses with.

Our session with Dr Hannah White occurred mere hours in light of the announcement of the General Election so my cohort and I were extremely keen to hear about her experiences; she provided great insight for us as young people discussing: how all our varied opportunities can interact and shape our knowledge and how she seeks to enhance a positive environment within the Institute for Government.

Following my own research and the session itself, I discovered Dr White first pursued academia, completing a PhD in Geography, and then began her political career as a clerk in the House of Commons spending a decade here with the Public Bill Office and Standards in Public Life Committee before making a career change and stepping into research and analysis on the very systems and institutions she is so knowledgeable of with the Institute for Government. Additionally, she has written a book carved from her extensive experience in the realms of Westminster, titled ‘Held in Contempt: What’s Wrong With the House of Commons’. 

Dr White spoke at length about her exciting career but emphasised the challenges she has faced along the way, and outlined how normal it is not to know the exact route you want to take in your career but always to remain open to new opportunities. It was also stressed that in politics, or otherwise any job, volunteering, study or life experience connects to shape us and develop our skill sets as we accumulate experience and grow as individuals and potential employees. This spoke to me because as a student I am unsure what avenue of work to embark on upon graduation and when it feels like many of my peers already have a plan established for themselves, this can be hard to approach. It was a refreshing perspective to hear and welcomed by all, and I came away feeling inspired.

Another key part of our discussions focussed on inclusivity in politics and workplace culture. Dr White began by highlighting some of the issues she has observed and dealt with. We then discussed how it is important to remain conscious of the often overlooked issues such as mental health, amidst the often high-pressure environment to look after and positively shape the values of those working around us. With the Institute for Government acting as a leading independent think tank working to keep the government effective, I was reassured that Dr White, as the Director, was committed to inclusion and eliminating harmful power dynamics within her own realm before advocating for the same attitudes from our elected officials, which is something that so many of us are concerned about when entering into the political sphere, particularly for minorities and individuals usually underrepresented in parliament and public office.

This Masterclass was particularly inspirational and provided great reassurance and guidance for my future career. During our discussions, we delved into the strength of a proactive attitude and the importance of clear self-expression of well-thought-out ideas – this can get you very far in an interview and a job and propel you to success. These principles are ones I have found to be of great importance and have been mirrored in the reflections I have had from other Masterclasses and personal experiences during applications. Once one has successfully made a positive and lasting first impression by highlighting your own skills and unique personality, this can take you far.

Dr Hannah White’s Masterclass was an enriching experience providing lots to think about, and I was grateful to attend. As I complete my studies and make my way within politics, I am certain this session will leave a lasting stamp on my attitude and outlook, as I appreciate that my time spent working in a supermarket or completing a module at university that I found challenging, ultimately have worked to form a well-rounded and mindful individual ready to become the changemaker I hope to be.