The forgotten strand of diversity
ALSO: data: does WFH mean more slacking off to do chores?
Today is exam results day in the UK. 16 year olds around the country will receive the verdict on their educational achievements to date.
One of the things we miss when surveying this news is what a stacked deck it is against some children: poorer children get worse exam grades.
In 2012 Chris Cook, a data analyst from the Financial Times, took the national GCSE results for Year 11 schoolchildren and plotted them against the relative poverty of the pupils’ neighbourhoods. I’m not a statistician, but I believe the graph that he came up with offers what scholars might call a correlation.
Of course, as adults most of us realise that some of the things that mark out a brilliant team member or individual contributor - like creativity, relationship building and ingenuity, aren’t captured by exam results. But if you’ve got bad exam results you won’t even get the chance to show anyone. Good exam results are the gateway to the best jobs.
By good grades being skewed towards the children of affluent parents we’re losing out on lots of talent. The social class we’re born into has a huge determination of where our careers will take us. Amongst rich nations only the US and Switzerland have higher rates of ‘intergenerational wealth elasticity’.
The challenges of class go further than that. Even those working class individuals who achieve good results find that their careers don’t achieve the same as their middle class peers. Last year KPMG conducted a survey of 16,500 members of its own staff which revealed that employees from working class backgrounds were significantly less likely to keep pace with the career advancement of their peers. The firm’s assessment of its own failings is candid and alarming:
“The data showed that socio-economic background, measured by parental occupation, had the strongest effect on how quickly an individual progressed through the firm. Individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds took on average 19% longer to progress to the next grade, when compared to those from higher socio-economic backgrounds.”
Even if you achieve enough academically to get your dream job your working class accent might yet hold you back.
If the objective of diversity initiatives is to systemise fairness inside organisations then accommodations for class are significant omissions from the approach of many firms.
KPMG has set itself the goal of having 29 per cent of partners and directors from a lower socio-economic background by 2030. Legal giants Slaughter and May have set themselves the more modest goal of drawing 15% of its lawyers from lower socio-economic backgrounds by 33%. (It’s currently 10%)
Elsewhere the silence of firms in seeking to diversify their workforce is leading others to agitate for change. Jed Haslam, an infectiously enthusiastic leader from Snapchat owning firm Snap, is one of the creators of Common People, a group which brings together members of the media and technology communities who wince at being the only working class accent in a room.
Jed spoke to Campaign magazine about the impact of social class on careers: "People have hidden it, me included. My accent is nowhere near what my accent was when I was growing up. It's difficult for people to see there are people like them. Looking for someone that sounds like them, maybe drops their Hs. And I think that's really important that people can hear from people like them. We want creatives to share their stories and keep the ladder down."
Flexible working is one step towards a solution here. One of the things that gets lost in the discussions about flexibility is the unexpected impact it has on diversity issues. If you want to recruit a richer mix of voices then allowing people to work from a broader catchment area has a huge impact on this.
Online publication Quartz always wanted to diversify their newsroom. Like a lot of US employers they bemoaned the fact that 'we always struggled to hire and retain African-American and Hispanic employees'. Then they went remote. They committed to receive applications from anywhere they could legally hire people. The stats of their transformation are dazzling. Employees of colour grew to make up half of the newsroom.
"It turns out there's a whole wide world of talented people who don't live in New York. Opening our jobs to them immediately increased the quality of our application pools; we had more and better candidates".
If we're serious about justice, expressed as advocation of diversity and inclusion then we need to recognise that class is important part of that mix. When you look at the exams results today, remember the grade doesn't tell the whole story.
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While the list isn’t universally applicable there are plenty of useable lesson.
Amazon sent a warning letter to employees who haven’t been making it to the office 3 times a week. This speaks to a disempowered leadership and management structure inside the organisation
I’m a huge fan of the FT’s Working It podcast. This episode looks at sexual assault in the workplace and how to report it. Remember: HR are not on your side, their first job is to mitigate risk for the company, no matter how sympathetic they look
Does your boss bemoan the fact that employees who are WFH are doing chores? The Wall Street Journal evaluated how workers, whether at home or in the office, spend their time. It’s not as straightforward as bosses might think… (also file this next to last month’s revelation that midweek golf is through the roof)
If you’ve tried meeting-free days and it failed at your firm then you might want to carve out your own ‘untouchable days’
Professor Nick Bloom looked at the economics of remote
Commuting time: WFH saves 1 hour a day of travel
Flexibility: workers value flex as worth 8-10% more pay
Getting ready time: on average this is ten minutes but I’ve seen Nick Bloom say it’s closer to 5 mins for men and 15 mins for women
All in all working from home is a better financial deal for workers - something employers need to take into account