Is class the last glass ceiling?

Monday 27 January 2020

Is class the glass ceiling?

Author: Eilidh Anderson

Genuine meritocracy is the hallmark of a fair society. From a young age we are told if you keep your head down, work hard and get a degree from a good university, you’ll be able to make it to the top in your chosen field.
However, according to a labour force study by the Office for National Statistics, 33% of the population is working class yet only 10% of those make it into prestigious professions . In fact, a 2017 study conducted by Boston Consulting Group on behalf of The Sutton Trust, a social mobility charity, found that social mobility seems to have stalled or deteriorated since the 1980s and that the UK is one of the lowest performing countries across all 36 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in terms of income mobility. 
Class is harder to see or define than other forms of discrimination, such as, gender, race or age. It is often left to more subtle signifiers: accent, formal attire, hobbies… or the dreaded catch all ‘polish’ . Often seen as something to ‘overcome’, there are less advocates and role models as often people want to fit in with their new station and not remind their colleagues where they came from.   

We can only begin to understand the exclusion of poorer entrants to the finance industry, and other elite professions, by addressing the culture within organisations and the unspoken codes of behaviour that are generally constructed and propagated by those already at the top.   

Understandably, there is often a natural affinity between people of a similar background due to shared experiences, hobbies, humour or taste. But consciously or unconsciously selecting a candidate that ‘fits in’ simply perpetuates the likelihood of group think. A diverse talent pool across multiple spectrums has been shown to increase performance, productivity and creativity to name a few. 
Often, getting further with less effort can be mistaken for merit. Drawing upon community interaction theory, some argue that an applicant from a working-class background making it in front of an interviewer despite the headwinds against them should have this taken into consideration versus a candidate who as cruised in on a tailwind.  

Perhaps a review of our education system is needed, perhaps governments should be honest about which professions university is truly needed for, or perhaps companies should redefine entry level job criteria. This is steadily becoming the case with the “Big Four” accountants and major technology firms increasingly putting less focus on degrees and more on apprenticeships, paid work experience and structured mentoring.  

Currently, there is simply not enough graduate jobs to meet the demand from the growth of higher education over the last twenty years resulting in an untapped talent pool of diverse graduates remaining unemployed or underemployed, thousands of pounds in debt and still chasing that dream of making it to the top. What will it take for them to smash the class ceiling? 



Eilidh Anderson

Eilidh Anderson is Vice President – Investment Management at Kingswood Group 




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