Is social class discrimination a serious problem in the workplace?

Kate Palmer, head of advisory at Peninsula, discusses if social class discrimination a serious problem in the workplace and how employers can avoid social class discrimination in their workplace.

A leading BBC Breakfast presenter has highlighted a further pay issue within the corporation; that of class discrimination. Steph McGovern, born in Middlesbrough, has revealed she believes the BBC isn’t giving enough consideration to taking on people from working-class backgrounds whilst fellow colleagues who are ‘a lot posher’ are receiving more money than the north-east presenter.

Numerous studies have been carried out in to the effect being working class might have on an individual’s working lives. In 2017, the Social Mobility Commission found there was a class pay gap where professionals from working class backgrounds earn an average of £6,800 less than professionals from higher classes.

Whilst the government has previously looked at class discrimination, there is currently no specific protection within the Equality Act 2010. The protected characteristic of race covers colour, nationality and ethnic or national origins however it does not extend to unfavourable treatment due to the locality or regional background, such as somebody claiming they are less favourably treated because they are from the north-east.

It is considered that protecting class specifically may be too burdensome as class itself is difficult to define. Class could, however, be protected where detrimental treatment can be linked to a particular protected characteristic, for example, where a black candidate is not recruited because they are perceived to be from a lower class background due to the colour of their skin.

In these circumstances, the decision could be seen as discriminatory.

Ignoring the class of a person will have a positive impact on diversity and inclusivity of the workplace as it will encourage recruitment of a wider range of individuals. This may be in relation to their ethnicity, education or regional background.

Diversity and recruitment training can cover how decision-making managers should be “class-blind”, focusing on the importance of making decisions based on objective factors and not being subconsciously swayed by other matters, such as the individual’s accent.

Businesses can actively monitor whether they have a class gap in the workplace. Equal opportunity monitoring forms can ask candidates questions regarding matters such as their ethnicity and their socio-economic background.

Whilst these forms should be set aside during the recruitment process, they can be used at a later date to review the inclusivity of the workforce, such as whether a particular class is under-represented.

The results can then be used to put an action plan in place of how to target this, looking at areas including advertising of roles, the questions asked at interview and the selection process.

Further reading on class discrimination

Kate Palmer

Kate Palmer

Kate Palmer is a Chartered Fellow of the CIPD and HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula UK.

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