09 September 2021

Cas's Blog - A Touch of Class

Yesterday I read that KPMG is aiming that by 2030, 29 per cent of its senior employees will be from working class backgrounds.

The article stated that KPMG defines a working class employee as anyone who when they were 14 had the highest earning parent in the family working in a blue-collar job.

It’s reported that at present, 20 per cent of KPMG’s partners and 14 per cent of its executive committee meet that definition.  Using the same definition, 39 per cent of British people are working class.

The TUC report that people from working class backgrounds earn less than those from middle class backgrounds, even if they achieve the same qualifications and are employed in the same type of job.  So, if working class people (who are as qualified as middle class people in the same profession) are earning less, what is the distinguishing factor?  Are middle class people more confident than working class people?  Well, street market, and city of London, traders, who traditionally came from working class backgrounds, don’t appear to lack confidence - quite the opposite.  So if it’s not lack of confidence that is holding back employees in professional roles, what could it be?  Could it be their accent? 

Forgive me for making a very broad brush point here, but here goes anyway, while middle class people will generally speak with a fairly neutral accent, their working class counterparts will generally speak with a regional accent. Many studies have shown that we are influenced by accents and linguistically profile people, forming opinions on their intelligence and other qualities in a matter of seconds.  For example, research consistently shows that the general public trust people with a cultured Edinburgh accent and assume a high level of integrity and intelligence, whereas the opposite is the case when hearing accents from some other regions in the UK.  Put it down to unconscious bias, or anything you wish, but what an utterly horrible, unfair, and offensive stereotype it appears that a lot of us are apparently guilty of perpetuating!

Of course, if someone is treated less favourably because of their accent, then this could be a matter of indirect discrimination, if for example they spoke with an accent because of their race or ethnic group.  However, this protection is not available for someone with a strong regional accent.

So is class the last bastion of unfair discrimination in the UK? If so, it would be difficult to legislate for appropriate protection for class per se, and possibly just as difficult to provide protection on the basis of accent. But just because this is a very difficult and sensitive area to legislate for, should that mean that we deny the problem and do nothing about it?

On that basis, I applaud KPMG’s efforts for taking some positive action in the class stakes.

I’d love to hear your views.

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