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Diversity and inclusion

Technology Can Help Bridge the UK’s Class Divide

Ash Ahmad

University_of_Cambridge

We’d like to think that in the UK, equality reigns. But there’s no denying that a prevalent class divide has had a significant impact on recruitment practices.

Do you know how to partake in high tea with the utmost decorum? Have you travelled to foreign countries? Do you sound like a BBC reporter?

If you answered yes to any or all of the above, you might have successfully passed the “poshness test.” As it turns out, many elite jobs require more than just solid grades and experience. Recent surveys have confirmed that many top firms either consciously or unconsciously gravitate towards highly-groomed candidates from upper class backgrounds. If you answered no, you might miss out on an opportunity because of a perceived class inferiority  regardless of how bright or talented you are.

Recruiting Based On “Confidence,” “Poise,” “Polish”

After conducting interviews with 13 elite firms, the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that, candidates who are determined to be “confident,” “poised” and “polished” have a much better chance at actually receiving an offer, according to a report by BBC News. Unfortunately, these characteristics often go hand in hand with, “Middle-class status and socialisation.”

As a result, many working-class applicants are met with closed doors, even if they have the right abilities for the job. According to CNN, one recruiting manager cynically explained that candidates must “learn to speak properly,” or adopt the tones of the upper class if they want to impress top firms. Posh accents and other attributes associated with wealth and upbringing, including prior travel experiences, often factor into the hiring process, and can put many candidates at a severe disadvantage.

Unfortunately, the education system has led the way for class discrimination. For many years, companies have consistently targeted the 24 Russell Group universities, whose students often hail from private or selective schools and represent only between 4% and 7% of the UK’s population. As a result, a multitude of talented or otherwise qualified job-seekers have been excluded.

Class Discrimination: Detrimental to Intellectual Diversity

School

Whether this type of bias is conscious or not, companies that engage in class discrimination are likely missing out on top talent without even realising it. While many firms will naturally gravitate towards the most confident and polished candidates, these highly subjective considerations are often not representative of more meaningful characteristics, such as work ethic, loyalty and aptitude. Moreover, there’s a risk in only recruiting from a small segment of the population.

All too often, recruiters and managers seek out candidates who are similar to themselves – both in mindset and social upbringing. But this type of intellectual and cultural homogeneity will only serve to hinder growth and innovation. When companies repeatedly hire the same type of person, they receive only the same type of thinking. If companies want to increase their intellectual capital, they must cultivate a “diversity of perspective,” to promote intellectual diversity.

Why Intellectual Diversity is Important

Attaining intellectual diversity is difficult, partially because it’s harder to quantify and measure than gender and ethnic diversity.

But it’s important to recognise that every successful team is composed of people with different strengths and styles of thought. You couldn’t play a football match with eleven goalkeepers, could you?

Sure, intellectual diversity leads to intellectual conflict, but creative abrasion is productive, according to Google’s former Vice President of Engineering, Bill Coughran on HBR. What exactly does creative abrasion mean? It’s “a process in which potential solutions are generated, explored, and altered through debate and discourse.” Simply put, without various ideas and outlooks flying around, you cannot be at the forefront of innovation.

How to Tell if Your Workplace Has Intellectual Diversity

There are a number of different ways to evaluate intellectual diversity within an organisation.

Paul Rubenstein, Leader of Talent Strategy, Leadership and Assessment for Aon Hewitt, recommends utilising personality tests to assess the skills and outlooks of current employees and potential candidates. The Harvard Business Review recommends using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which divides thinking styles and preferences into four categories.

By identifying whether each employee is extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving, you can group people with different Myers-Briggs types to ensure multiple approaches to an issue.

Chuck Hollis, VMware chief strategist, asks several questions which serve as a good test for discerning if your company is intellectually diverse:

  • Does everyone come from the same type of place and give the same type of answers?
  • Do you spend time celebrating the past more than preparing for the future?
  • Do new arrivals seem to be just different versions of the same genotype and don’t provide fresh perspectives?

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions, you might need to take a hard look at your current state. Maybe it’s time for you to reassess your hiring methods to ensure your company actively seeks and incorporates intellectual diversity for invaluable growth and progress.

Companies Leading in Social Diversity

A number of companies are already addressing the class divide in recruitment – rather than focussing on only hiring employees from certain backgrounds, they’re embracing innovative new methods to better expose such bad practices.

For example, Rare’s Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) uses social mobility metrics to measure a candidate’s potential within the context of his or her socioeconomic background. The CRS incorporates factors like education and home life, allowing companies to compare applicants with others from similar backgrounds.

Transparency is another way that companies are improving their hiring practices and diminishing the chance for class-related bias. Law firm Linklaters, for example, makes all of its diversity and social mobility data available to the public to be measured and judged, fostering a feeling of pride amongst employees.

Moreover, this practice helps showcase successful business professionals who have achieved high levels of upward social mobility, and reinforces the idea that these individuals should be held up as examples, not cast in the shadows.

How Technology Can Help Stamp Out the Class Divide

Even when recruiters limit themselves to supposedly objective metrics like paper CVs,b discriminatory tendencies can still easily creep into the recruitment process. The Guardian reports that “undercover job hunters” who created false CVs in a sting operation revealed that there’s widespread racial discrimination in the UK against workers who simply have African and Asian sounding names.

Only by gaining a truly comprehensive understanding of applications can employers avoid conscious and unconscious bias, and hire on merit alone.

LaunchPad’s video recruitment software allows recruiters to judge candidates by more meaningful factors. By viewing a video recording of candidates (responding to questions that companies designed), recruiters can avoid any gut reactions and screen candidates based on a combination of their CV and articulated responses. In addition, companies can eliminate location-based discrimination by giving an equal chance to those who can’t afford to travel for an in-person interview.

Though class differences have permeated the hiring sector, integrated video technology is a vital step towards eliminating class discrimination and matching the best talent to the right companies.

(Main image credit: llee_wu/flickr; 2nd image credit: Wikimedia)

Ash Ahmad

Ash has 15 years in the HR and IT worlds, specialising in how systems can support organisations in attracting and retaining high calibre candidates.