Diversity is certainly on the agenda for businesses these days, and it’s long overdue. Increasing numbers of companies are prioritising formal diversity policies and training, with matters of race, gender, and identity rightfully being brought to attention in recent years.
However, there is an unprotected characteristic that puts a vast group of people at a disadvantage when job hunting, irrespective of background or identity: economic class.
Classism arises from the proliferation of negative stereotypes in relation to someone’s economic class. It manifests as a negative judgement about someone’s wealth, appearance, accent, education, or place of work.
These are the current characteristics protected by UK law, as of the Equality Act 2010:
• Gender reassignment
• Marriage/civil partnership
• Pregnancy and maternity
• Sexual orientation
It’s worth noting that despite the legalities in place for these characteristics, there is still so much more work to be done in recruitment and beyond. Individuals with these characteristics continue to face discrimination, harassment, and unequal levels of employment opportunity and we should do everything we can to combat this.
Yet, the fact that these characteristics are protected means that cases of discrimination can be reported to a UK court of law, which is a welcome step in the right direction. Because class isn’t protected by law, it often slips through the cracks and is subject to tremendous levels of bias that cannot be escalated.
The reality of classism in stats
• 67% of people from the UK think social class is an issue when it comes to job hunting. One in three (29.3%) feel that they have been discriminated against because of their class when job hunting.
• 77.3% of employers admit they consider the way someone speaks when hiring.
• One third of the UK population comes from a working-class background, but people from this background only make up for 10 percent of UK’s highest-paying occupations.
• Even when those people manage to break into top professions, they earn an average of 16% percent less than their colleagues from more privileged backgrounds.
• 18% of privately educated graduates earn over £30,000 within 6 months of starting work, compared to 9% from state schools.
The fallout of classism in the hiring process
There are often stories told of individuals from poor backgrounds ‘pulling themselves up by the bootstraps’ or ‘climbing the ladder of success’ – a phrase we’ve never liked anyway.
In reality, this rarely happens. There are too many existing prejudices and structures in place that prohibit people from accessing fair opportunities in the first place.
The Financial Times found that when company diversity policies focussed on ethnic minorities but paid little attention to people’s socio-economic disadvantages, they always tended to favour individuals from wealthier backgrounds in the hiring process. This has allowed many companies to use diversity as a tick-box exercise, often hiring people of colour for the sake of filling a quota and appearing ‘diverse’ without considering economic class.
As well as these tactics being belittling to people of colour, it also leaves room for further unjust incidents. For example, people of colour with decreased access to opportunities due to their race and economic class often remain significantly side-lined and forgotten in the hiring process. When class intersects with protected characteristics, these individuals are at further risk of discrimination.
Fundamentally, though, working-class people regardless of background, identity, or disability are struggling to access the same opportunities as others, despite human rights protections. This must change. At ILMJ, we believe that the right to opportunity should include everyone – and that means everyone. That’s why we’ve created 4 starting steps to help make the hiring process more accessible.
Steps to take in the hiring process to prevent classist bias
Of course, there is no quick fix to these inequalities. But we believe that small changes can make a significant positive impact, and there are definitely steps we can take to secure better, fairer opportunities for everyone.
- Understanding unconscious bias
This is an important starting place. Consider why certain dialects are considered ‘less professional’ than others. What does that imply? There are deep rooted reasons why we have assumptions about things like this, and lots of them stem from prejudice, whether we are consciously aware of it or not.
- Eliminating higher education requirements
Does the candidate really need to have studied at a Russell Group university to do the job? Do they even need to be a graduate to do the job?
Some roles do require degrees, for example roles within the medical profession. Often though, job specifications claim to require a candidate who has completed higher education when the job could be done just as well by someone without a degree.
- Valuing transferable skills over high-profile experience
Ensure candidates are not being selected just because they have worked for high-profile companies. Not everyone has been fortunate enough to do this! Instead place importance on transferrable skills, commitment, and dedication.
- Removing address & secondary education from CV
Removing home addresses from all CVs is a great way to eliminate the chances of unconscious bias towards candidates based on where they live. Requiring home addresses on CVs and job applications also puts homeless people at a significant disadvantage when seeking employment. The same can be done for secondary school education, so that privately educated candidates are not favoured over state school candidates.
This list is non-exhaustive, of course, but certainly captures some great ideas about how to encourage equal opportunities and combat classism when recruiting.
The hiring process should support and encourage people from all types of intersectional backgrounds. Humans are complex, after all; we cannot, and should not, be pigeon-holed to one characteristic.
No one can snap their fingers and change who they are or where they came from, and why should they have to? Growing up without money is not a choice – but helping to widen the scope for opportunity is.
Let’s strive towards an inclusive future, where equal opportunities are given and hiring methods are reimagined, redeveloped, and improved on the basis of a genuine desire to do better.