Upper class twit or Easter Leaver?
13 Sep 2021
I heard on the radio the other day that what we call “working class” the Americans call “middle class” (class obsession never having taken hold there to the same extent). In a letter to the Times, Lord Rose of Monewden, a trustee of the Social Mobility Foundation, praises KPMG's decision to publish its class pay gap and set a target for the proportion of its senior staff to come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. He says the firm “has recognised that making sure its senior leaders include people from ordinary backgrounds is the right thing to do and will make their business stronger”, adding that he hopes the move spurs other employers to take similar action. Lord Rose says employers are “increasingly recognising the importance of prioritising social mobility, not as a corporate social responsibility add-on but as central to building a successful, sustainable business”.
Of course he would say that, but beware “prioritising” as it suggests using social background as a key selection criteria, which it should never be.
A well-educated commentator in the Daily telegraph has given the same half-thought-through commentary on KPMG's vow to ensure that 29% of its partners and directors come from a working-class background by 2030, saying: “Finally, a major British company has admitted that this country is suffering from a serious problem with social mobility.” Sorry, I thought this was employment; there are sharp limits to how employers can enhance social mobility in the same sense that they should recruit on ability not background. The article concerned says it is “remarkable” that this marks the first time a major UK business has set such a target, arguing that the “crisis has been staring boardrooms in their nepotistic, Oxbridge-educated faces for decades”, suggesting that it “has been easier to shrug off such a sensitive topic than admit that something should be done.” Employing somebody because they didn't go to OxBridge is perverse, to say the least, although I do accept that golf lessons might not be (don't play myself, too middle class). In an all too typical bit of misguided social conscience, the article highlights data showing that while just 7% of the general population went to a fee-paying school, 48% of FTSE 350 chief executives were privately educated. The obsession against fee paying schools if they deliver a better product is lamentable (didn't do the fee paying bit myself, too upper class), and one would expect better educated people to rise to more senior positions on average. TUC data showing that 18% of private school graduates earn more than £30,000 within six months of entering the workforce, compared with just 9% of graduates from a state school is equally unconvincing. A commitment to recruit and promote on merit wouldn't negate social advantage, but do you want to be the “token underclassman”?