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Tackling Social Class discrimination

Social class. It’s more than just posh accents and sprawling estates. In the UK, it’s a complex web of factors – parental occupation, education, income, and even where you grew up. This web can become a barrier in unexpected places, like the modern workplace. Here’s why HR and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) professionals need to be aware of social class discrimination and how to dismantle it.

The Issue: An Uneven Playing Field

The UK boasts a rich breadth of backgrounds, but social mobility – the chance to climb the career ladder – remains stubbornly low. Working-class graduates often earn less than their middle-class peers, and unseen biases can hinder their progress. Unpaid internships, a reliance on private school networks, and a lack of understanding of working-class experiences all contribute to an uneven playing field.

What Does Social Class Discrimination Look Like?

It can be subtle. Here are some red flags:

  • Unconscious Bias: Interviewers favouring candidates with accents or mannerisms associated with a higher social class.
  • Networking Blind Spots: Relying solely on existing professional networks that exclude working-class talent.
  • The “Culture Fit” Myth: Assuming a good “culture fit” necessitates a shared background, overlooking valuable diversity of thought.
  • Socio-Economic Disadvantage: Unpaid internships or expensive training programmes inadvertently favouring the financially privileged.

The Impact: A Missed Opportunity

Social class discrimination doesn’t just hurt individuals; it hinders organisations too. Here’s why:

  • Limited Talent Pool: Excluding working-class talent restricts access to a wider range of skills, experiences, and perspectives.
  • Demotivation and Disengagement: Feeling undervalued due to background can lead to decreased employee morale and productivity.
  • Reputational Damage: A lack of social mobility within a company can damage its employer brand and attract negative press.

The Way Forward: Building an Inclusive Workplace

The good news? You can make a difference. Here’s your action plan:

  • Educate Yourself: Understand social class discrimination and its impact. Workshops and training programmes are a great starting point.
  • Review Recruitment Practices: Focus on transferable skills and experience, not accents or backgrounds. Develop clear, objective selection criteria.
  • Champion Social Mobility Initiatives: Partner with organisations working with underprivileged communities to build talent pipelines.
  • Mentorship Programmes: Connect experienced professionals with working-class employees to provide guidance and support.
  • Review Workplace Culture: Ensure your company culture is inclusive and welcoming of diverse backgrounds. Regular employee surveys can help identify areas for improvement.

Remember: Social mobility isn’t just about helping individuals climb the ladder; it’s about creating a stronger, more innovative, and truly representative workforce. By dismantling the barriers of social class discrimination, UK workplaces can unlock their full potential and create a brighter future for everyone.

About the author: Jenny Garrett OBE is an award-winning career coach, author and leadership trainer. Together with her team, they deliver impactful development to support women and those from ethnically diverse backgrounds to progress at work, as well as supporting majority group leaders to make inclusion happen. She is also co founder of a social enterprise Rocking Ur Teens which connects corporates with a pipeline of future talent. Jenny’s latest practical and empowering book is Equality vs Equity, tackling issues of Race in the workplace.

This article has been kindly repurposed and you can read the original here.