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Class discrimination – the silent bias?

April 30, 2012

New research suggests that class discrimination is prevalent amongst employers. But how do you define class? And what can be done to prevent class prejudice?

It goes without saying that we here at DMJ, along with the vast majority of recruitment professionals, believe that everybody is entitled to equal employment opportunities. But the results of a survey, released today by legal firm Pannone suggest that 90% of HR professionals think that inequality is still rife in the workplace.

Over half of those questioned believe social class inequality exists. And 79% said that unconscious bias is widespread during the recruitment process and when considering promotion opportunities. It seems that class prejudice, although probably inattentive, may be the silent bias.

The Equality Act 2010 introduced legislation to further prevent discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability, nationality, religion and sexual orientation – but how do you define class? And how is it possible to legislate a notion so fluid?

Look it up in the dictionary and class is defined as ‘A group of people sharing the same social, economic, or occupational status’ – but is your class defined by your background or your current social standing? Can a person ‘change’ class? And should they want to?

Last year, research by the Department of Work and Pensions found widespread name-bias against ‘foreign sounding’ names. Is the same true for ‘common sounding’ names? Liberal Democrat MP and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone proposed a policy to introduce ‘name-blank’ job application forms. This policy was later dropped, but if put into force, would it have removed subconscious discrimination at the key stage of the job application process?

Is class discrimination something that needs greater attention in the workplace? Would legislation to prevent class prejudice require candidates to declare their lineage on their application?

What’s your view? Should there be tick boxes for ‘class’? If so, what would you tick?

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2 comments

  1. Many years ago while working as a Practice Manager in a very well known Legal Aid firm – I was told by the Staff Partner that she didn’t have a problem with race or religion but she did have a problem with “Class”. She said this while pointed looking at me. Needless to say I didn’t stay in that Practice much longer.


  2. i think that class discrimination is definately linked to race, especially here in the UK. upper class mostly consists of white people; middle class is changing, there is more diversity of race. working class (often the majority class) tends to be mostly made up of ethnic minorities.

    it is interesting that you mentioned a bias against foreign sounding names. it sounds silly, but i have sometimes thought that my name has been a barrier, especially when i know that i have a good academic background and decent work experience. the way the employment market is, it is in the employer’s favour and i think they can afford to be fickle over a name or class – much to the detriment of prspective employees.



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