Written by Dotty Winters

Voices

You don’t have to be posh to work here, but it helps

It’s official: if you want to get into the elite professions, you need the right education and the right accent. How do we change, asks Dotty Winters, when the only people who get the chance to fix the system are the ones benefiting from it?

rubber duck trapped inside a stretched SlinkyThis week the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published A qualitative evaluation of non-educational barriers to the elite professions which found that:

• More than 60% of the job vacancies in elite legal and City firms are filled by university graduates who have been through private or grammar schools.
• Recruiters are more influenced by accent and mannerism than by a candidate’s ability to perform in a role.
• Interviewers are impressed by candidates who have travelled widely (disproportionally benefiting candidates whose parents are wealthier).

At first glance you may be tempted to roll your eyes, shake your head and mutter, it was ever thus. Unfortunately, the news is worse than you think – the report shows this posh-bias in recruitment among top firms is getting worse, to the extent that many people who now hold senior positions in these firms would be unlikely to be appointed under current practices.

The picture painted of how elite finance and law firms operate is one which is so grim, feudal and aristocratic that the only glimmer of hope is that it may inspire a new series of Blackadder, in which Blackadder and Baldrick repeatedly try and fail to be accepted for unpaid internships making tea while characters played by Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Miranda Richardson live off expense accounts and cocaine while claiming to undertake a whole-scale restructure of the finance sector in order to rid it of prejudice and corruption. Boris can have a walk-on cameo.

“Unless you are the poshest person you have ever heard of, you should be horrified. Even if you are, you should be horrified.”

Slightly confusingly, this report refers throughout to the “working class”, a term now so confused and diluted as to be nearly meaningless. For the purpose of the research this term was used to apply to people on the basis of:

• Their schooling (not grammar or private)
• Receipt of free school meals
• Or having parents who didn’t both go to university (or did, but were the first generation in their family to do so).

This casts the net pretty wide, and you could argue it includes factors which fail to sum up the essence of class as many understand it. To be fair to the authors and headline writers everywhere, had they avoided reference to class they would have missed out on the endless variations of “glass ceiling replaced by class ceiling” soundbites.

The report isn’t totally without hope: they report a number of initiatives and measures in place at these firms to improve the situation. But the people tasked with making these changes, the politicians who need to support this change, arguably even some of the members of the commission making this report are all potential beneficiaries of the system they must abolish.

padlocked doorOf course the world is full of wonderful people, who are capable of working against self-interest, and there are exceptions to every rule, but this system has continued to flourish despite established evidence that lack of diversity works against the interest of systems, business and innovation.

This system has evolved and strengthened despite the arrival of the Equality Act. If evidence and legislation isn’t enough to topple a system, ‘good intentions’ doesn’t feel like a brilliant Plan B.

Unless you are the poshest person you have ever heard of, you should be horrified. Even if you are, you should be horrified. Unencumbered, this bar will keep on rising, and no matter how frightfully posh you think you are, one day you or your children won’t be posh enough.

Now is the time to pen a strongly worded letter to your bank, legal firm and MP asking what they are doing about this. Now is the time to sign a petition, attend a protest and sharpen your metaphorical pitchfork.

We need to make it clear that this approach is dangerous and if we don’t protest this, we are tacitly agreeing to have our futures dictated by the cast of Made In Chelsea. We will raise our offspring to eat vegan pâté off roof slates and drink overpriced cocktails out of ironic mason jars. We will be compelled to give our children three second names (Fenchurch Wellington-Smythe) just to ensure that they can get into the right nursery, in order to have a hope of reaching the right primary school, in order to secure the appropriate education then internship then gap years, all with the aim of eventually being able to undertake life-enhancing poverty-tourism with all the right Trustafarians in order to polish up their CV.

And all of this will never be enough, because those who are born into wealth will continue to be born into power, and will accrue more of both, while developing ever more complicated systems to detect those who were stupid enough not to be born rich.

@DottyWinters

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Written by Dotty Winters

Nascent stand-up, fan of fancy words, purveyor of occasional wrongness, haphazard but enthusiastic parent, science-fan, apprentice-feminist.