When talking about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, a subject that isn’t tackled nearly enough is class. Why?
I’m a proud Liverpudlian from a working-class family. My parents worked tirelessly to provide me with an education and to give me the opportunities that weren’t available to them.
The most valuable things they instilled in me, however, were a dogged ambition, resilience and a relentless work ethic; qualities I didn’t realise would be of such worth until I entered the working world. A world where your societal and geographical heritage influenced the opportunities available to you.
Here I am today, a wife, a mother and a business owner – and a successful one at that – but why, in today’s working world, is my story still seen as unique? Why is success still influenced by class? And why aren’t we talking about it?
In April 2019, The Social Mobility Commission published a State of the Nation 2018 to 2019 report, which revealed social mobility had stagnated for the past four years and urged for urgent action to close the class privilege gap:
“Inequality is now entrenched in Britain from birth to work […] Being born privileged still means you usually remain privileged.”
The longevity of disadvantage suffered by individuals born to working class families in this report makes for disheartening reading. Disadvantaged children enter their school years behind their peers. With good schooling, however, they do have the ability to catch up – but as long as the opportunity for quality education is available to them.
Similarly, although more students from disadvantaged backgrounds are entering university, they are also more likely to drop out before they graduate. Plus, despite calls for changes to university intake criteria, privileged students continue to have an advantage when applying for places at Russell Group Universities; the knock-on impact of which is greater influence and opportunity in the job market.
Consequently, the privileged are nearly 80% more likely to attain professional jobs than the working class. And, as the State of the Nation report highlights, “[e]ven when people from disadvantaged backgrounds land a professional job, they earn 17% less than their privileged colleagues”.
So, what can be done to close the class privilege gap in the workplace?
As HR professionals and business owners, we are acutely aware of the Equality Act 2010 and the protected characteristics of individuals. That is, the unfair treatment of an individual because of their age, race, religion, sex, sexuality, disability, maternity/paternity or marital/civil partnership status.
Have you spotted the missing characteristic? Class.
Why isn’t class defined as a protected characteristic? Could this be why unconscious bias towards working class employees remains? And perhaps why tackling social inequality and encouraging social mobility continues to be a lower-level priority on the workplace agenda?
However, as Human Resources Expert Regina Hartley brilliantly conveys in her Ted Talk Why the best hire may not have the perfect resume, those who have fought to achieve the same level of experience, knowledge and qualification as their more privileged peers deserve as many opportunities in the workplace. This potential talent pool certainly should not be overlooked. Indeed, in describing some of the world’s most successful business leaders, Hartley explains:
“They don’t think they are who they are in spite of adversity, they know they are who they are because of adversity. They embrace their trauma and hardships as key elements of who they’ve become, and know that without those experiences, they might not have developed the muscle and grit required to become successful”.
As HR professionals and employers, we can do our bit for social inclusion – starting with your D&I strategy.
From the recruitment process – the writing of job descriptions and person specifications, the application selection process and interviews – to opportunities for training, promotion and rewards for achievement, as well as cultivating your workplace culture – attitudes towards employee worth and values of contribution – class needs to be considered.
If you’re looking to include social mobility in your D&I strategy, or if you’d like advice and training for cultivating your company culture, talk to Tell Jane by contacting me directly at Lisa@telljane.co.uk.
If you want to learn more why not sign up to our next seminar ‘An introduction to diversity and inclusion‘ click here for more information…