I read an interesting article in the Financial Times last week by Nick Bent, Chief Executive of UpReach, a Social Mobility charity. In his piece “Class and the City” he questions why the finance sector, in this instance, is not going further to report on social class when reports have found that “socio-economic background is more likely to impact a person’s route to success in financial services than gender or ethnicity” (ref. data report Shaping our Economy).
For me, this article and the data and research that Nick Bent references, is yet more evidence to support why “Class” should be considered as protected under the Equality Act, with social class cutting across all the other issues. I’m not alone here, the British Psychological Society, the TUC, the Social Mobility Commission and some academics have argued for “social class” to be added to the Equality Act 2010 as a way of promoting social mobility and addressing class-based inequalities (Ref. article Should class be protected under the equality law)
Despite the barriers facing working-class people continuing to gain traction, and reference to the nation’s and economy’s interest to shatter the “class ceiling”, Mr Bent draws attention to the finance sector and the “absence of stringent proposals on social class in a new consultation by the Financial Conduct Authority on diversity and inclusion. The FCA suggests mandatory strategies, data collection, target setting and progress reporting on the characteristics that currently fall under the equality act, which does not include socio-economic background”.
I agree with Nick Bent, the FCA and other regulatory bodies for that matter, should go further and commit to mandatory reporting on socio-economic background as well. But is the bigger question here, should class be protected under the Equality Act?
Nick Bent references some alarming statistics from Progress Together's data report “Shaping our Economy”:
- Students from a lower socio-economic background who get a first-class degree are still less likely to obtain a top graduate job than a more privileged peer with a 2:2.
- “socio-economic background is more likely to impact a person’s route to success in financial services than gender or ethnicity”.
- Working-class women seem to suffer a double disadvantage, progressing 21% more slowly into senior roles.
- Working-class women from ethnic minority backgrounds are 30 times less likely to be in senior positions than privileged white men.
By adding “class” as a protected characteristic this would put a duty on public sector entities and large organisations to monitor and report on their efforts to tackle discrimination of this kind. So why has it not happened? Perhaps it’s the complexity of defining and proving social class. Unlike other characteristics like race or gender, social class can be less straightforward to identify and measure.
There is no doubt that a workplace made up of people who are hired based on being the best person for the job and with the greatest potential to excel (rather than their socio-economic standing or background or any other irrelevant characteristic) makes good business and commercial sense, it's also the right thing to do.
Despite the absence of social class being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, there are still plenty of step’s businesses can take towards positive change.
Mr Bent highlights “that paying travel and accommodation costs for job interviews and work experience, offering the living wage for internships and using admissions frameworks are trivial investments that can offer a huge return if companies then find talent in previously unexplored demographics and geographies” in addition to “introducing policies to close class gaps in pay and promotion.”
I’m proud to say that at AMS we are collecting data and reporting on the socio-economic background of our UK&I employees and have done so for the past two years. This crucial insight into our workforce feeds our wider social mobility plans, plans that has seen us embrace new partnerships to influence change with Movement to Work, Beam, Bridge of Hope, Recruit for Spouses and the Social Mobility Foundation. It’s also great to see our progress recognised nationally with AMS entering, for the first time, The Social Mobility Foundation Top 75 Employer Index last year - we came in at number 43.
Furthermore, on the Public Sector Resourcing framework we are promoting the Social Mobility benefits of the Recruit, Train, Deploy service line as an entry into employment for individuals from a low socio-economic background. Candidates are sourced for their attitude and aptitude to learn.
My final thoughts, I would encourage organisations not to wait for “class” to be added to the Equality Act as this might never happen. There is nothing to stop companies reporting social class alongside the other protected characteristics and it doesn’t necessarily require this mandate. It’s the right thing to do and can be one of the first steps for employers to take positive action to address identified barriers or disadvantages faced by certain socio-economic groups who make a significant proportion of our working population.