Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

"Poshness" cleavage in the UK

As is often the case, textbook authors assert things like the existence of a major social class cleavage in the UK, but offer little evidence. Here's some.

'Poshness tests' block working-class applicants at top companies
Unacknowledged “poshness tests” at elite British companies are thwarting the career prospects of talented working-class applicants and reinforcing social division, according to a government study.
Students at Eton. Posh? Qualified?
The research by the social mobility and child poverty commission found that old-fashioned snobbery about accents and mannerisms was being used by top companies to filter out working-class candidates and favour the privileged.

The commission examined the recruitment processes at 13 elite law, accountancy and financial companies who between them appoint 45,000 of the best jobs in the country. It found that 70% of jobs offered by those firms in 2014 went to applicants from private or selective schools, even though such schools only educate around 11% of the population…

One employer suggested firms were unwilling to sift through applications from those of working-class backgrounds. “Is there a diamond in the rough out there?” the unnamed recruiter told researchers. “Statistically it’s highly probable but the question is … how much mud do I have to sift through in that population to find that diamond?”

Alan Milburn, the former Labour cabinet minister who chairs the commission, said: “Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.”…

The report found that there was an increasing awareness of the need for social mobility, but that social class was a “relatively hidden category” of discrimination compared to other forms of diversity.

One recruiter talked about her doubts after appointing someone who lacked “polish”. The unnamed interviewer said: “I recruited somebody … she’s short of polish. We need to talk about the way that she articulates, the way that she, first, chooses words and, second, the way she pronounces them. It will need, you know … it will need some polish because whilst I may look at the substance, you know, I’ve got a lot of clients and a lot of colleagues who are very focused on the personal presentation and appearance side of it.”

The report also said that companies were unwilling to acknowledge the problem. It said: “Social class, however defined, apparently remains a strong determinant of one’s ability to access the elite professions and, once there, to thrive. Yet still, this study would suggest that within elite firms, awareness of the role played by social background in relation to career progression is quite low, especially compared to other diversity axes such as gender…

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