UK social background remains a barrier to reaching top jobs

Britain’s boardrooms need to be “levelled up” to remove bias against workers from lower socio-economic backgrounds, according to the head of the Chartered Management Institute.

About a third of 1,000 managers across the UK surveyed by the industry body said that socio-economic background was still a barrier to progression to an executive position.

A similar number said that class was also a barrier to achieving a role at middle management level within their organisations. Those from a higher socio-economic background take up more than half of management roles, according to the research, with this bias more pronounced among companies based in London and the south-east of England.

Ann Francke said that socio-economic background was rarely considered by managers when considering diversity in senior jobs, unlike gender or ethnicity.

“Socio economic background is definitely a factor in your ability to advance and it also definitely makes it more difficult to get hired in the first place,” said Francke. “It’s really quite staggering that so few employers even have this on their radar.”

The CMI has called on ministers to bring in mandatory reporting of employees’ socio-economic background, similar to the data that companies now have to report on gender diversity.

Francke said: “There is so much talk about levelling up when it comes to place. But really, what we need is levelling up when it comes to people.”

Only 14 per cent of organisations are looking at school leavers as part of their recruitment efforts, according to the CMI, with graduate schemes dominating recruitment programmes.

The CMI’s research showed that existing government schemes that helped companies bring on school leavers are not widely known about or exploited.

Just 3 per cent of respondents said their group used the Restart programme, which provides additional support for people who have been out of work for at least nine months, and only 14 per cent used Kickstart, a six-month paid job funded by the government. Less than a fifth used other government traineeship schemes.

The CMI is pushing for the adoption of fairer and more transparent recruitment processes and for companies to bring in action plans to achieve these.

“In the UK today your background should be irrelevant when it comes to your choice of career and how your career progresses. Unfortunately, our research shows that’s not the case,” said Francke.

“There appears to be a widespread acceptance that where you come from will determine the direction of your career path, and an unfortunate reality that employers aren’t doing enough to disprove this.”

CMI surveyed more than 1,000 UK-based managers in December as part of its 75th anniversary project.

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