Today’s report from Alan Milburn’s Commission on Social Mobility found young people from working class backgrounds are being ‘systematically locked out’ of top professions because they fail the ‘poshness test’. The figures are stark: 43 per cent of newspaper columnists, over half of senior civil servants and a staggering 71 per cent of senior judges in Britain went to private school which educate just seven per cent of the population.
It’s common for organisations and businesses to focus on the gender, race and disability of their recruits but some are leading the way on social background too. Tristram Hunt and I recently visited The Spectator, which has long taken work experience students from the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF). We met two Spectator staff members from working class backgrounds, who told us about the benefits, networks and opportunities they gained from the Social Mobility Foundation scheme. Both now work at the Spectator and Fraser Nelson (an SMF board member) told me this was nothing to do with social outreach but a matter of merit: ‘we hired both because they were the very best available.’
When we visited top law firm Clifford Chance they told us about the changes they had made to their recruitment practice in order widen their talent pool. They worried about any unconscious interview bias of the sort which Alan Milburn highlights in his report today. At final interview there is no CV for those who are hiring. Before Clifford Chance brought in these CV-blind interviews, one fifth of recruits came from non-selective state schools, now it’s a third. Successful candidates used to come from a pool of around 32 universities, now it’s 45. Ask them why they do it and, like The Spectator, Clifford Chance is very clear: ‘the extent to which you can broaden access and steal a march on your competitors is clearly advantageous as a business.’
Clifford Chance publish all of this information online, as well as stats on the percentage of their employees educated at state school and who are the first in their family to go to university. Far from considering it red tape, they told us ‘transparency is a game-changer.’ In fact, the legal services board now monitor the social background of their members in law firms across the UK for the same reason.
Companies that are aware of and monitor social background do better when it comes to opening up access to a people from ordinary backgrounds. Shining a light on the problem focuses minds, and encourages employers to develop the right solutions to tackle it in their firms. The Labour party not only applauds their work but can learn from it too.
Gloria de Piero is the shadow minister for women and equalities