Written by Lewis Maleh, Chief Executive
Society needs motivated and ambitious graduates entering the work force from all sections of society. It is important for the economy and individuals that people from different socio-economic backgrounds have the opportunity to compete for high paying positions. Education at school and home plays an import part in governing whether graduates want to enter in to a particular industry in the first place.
Attracting and hiring people from different socio-economic backgrounds is critical to attaining a diversity of thought within organisations. A different educational and socio-economic background has an impact on your world view, which organisations can derive huge benefit from by way of more opinions and better quality decision making. It is therefore important to give as many people as possible the knowledge to plan their career path and the opportunity to follow it.
The Social Mobility Commission released a report in July 2016 entitled “Socio-Economic Diversity in Life Sciences and Investment Banking”. The report found that people from more privileged backgrounds are over-represented in professional scientific roles in life sciences and in front office roles within investment banking compared to the population as a whole.
According to the study, different rates of access can be explained by people from non-privileged backgrounds being more likely to experience challenges in the recruitment and selection process. In a fiercely competitive graduate recruitment market, there can be a tendency towards preferring graduates from well know prestigious universities. If you haven’t attended a top university you might miss out on access to a high paying front office investment banking role.
Pre-screening methods tend to be formal, focusing on academic achievement. In the UK, social-economic background is correlated with A-level results. So a candidate might perform well at university but not pass the screening due to their A-level results. For a variety of different reasons, including limited knowledge of the right route in to different professions, people from non-privileged backgrounds are less likely to attend the right university. This means they are likely to miss out on the opportunity to decide if they want to pursue a certain career path.
Some more thought around career advice at school and a more inclusive pre-screening process would yield huge benefits. People who have been successful in their careers should send the elevator back down and help young people with good solid advice and opportunities for work experience. There are some great charities that do this through mentorship programs. It would be great to see more. Apprenticeships are also an effective way for people to get in to good careers, however front office banking and top scientific roles would be hard to access via an apprenticeship.
At interview stage, the process becomes mostly informal and qualifications give way to first impressions and unconscious biases. The feeling of familiarity you get with people who are dressed right, like what you like and use the right language. There is a big focus on fit during an interview process, which could mean missing out on exceptional talent. The impact of this varies greatly between firms and can work for or against people depending on who the interviewer is. For example, you could happen to be interviewed by someone from your school or sports team which is likely to help build good rapport.
In addition to the work organisations are doing on diversity and inclusion, it is critical these initiatives reach in to schools of all socio-economic standing. It is important for students from underprivileged backgrounds to get the proper education and guidance at an early age so they can make informed and better career choices. The career paths for top jobs in sectors such as life sciences and investment banking starts at school with the right selection of A-levels and degree. Gaining work experience in these industries is important if graduates want a chance at passing pre-screening. They should have the opportunity to gain work experience so they understand what these jobs involve and how to behave in these environments.
Given securing a top graduate job is dependent on demonstrating specific behaviours, these should be taught to students from underprivileged backgrounds. There should also be a focus at schools to give students access to extra-curricular activities where they can gain the self-confidence, communication skills and leadership experiences required to land top jobs. If students are unable to participate due to after school jobs, it would be great to see students included in some way so they learn these vital skills.
In summary, I think government, organisations and schools need to do all they can to ensure students from underprivileged backgrounds are equipped with the knowledge to make better career choices and are prepared for interviews. Apprenticeships have a positive impact, but for top paying jobs, work experience and education on career paths and key behaviours is vital in addressing the balance.