THE BLOG
17/06/2015 09:31 BST | Updated 15/06/2016 06:59 BST

Confidence, Not Class, Is the Issue in Social Mobility

Let us not be distracted from the real reason why top jobs sometimes unfairly elude people: It's confidence, not class.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission set up by Government to promote social mobility claims a 'poshness test' is keeping people out of top jobs in the best firms.

But as the product of a secondary education and a woman, so aware of both class and glass ceilings, my experience is that an unspoken accent apartheid at the top is the least of the issues limiting professional mobility.

The problem is much more nuanced. It really is very hard now to see anywhere other than 'Snobs R Us' bothering with how 'posh' someone is, whatever exactly that even means these days.

Employers mostly want talent, drive and a capacity to fit in with their culture. And confidence.

An ability to suggest competence, wear appropriate clothes to a job interview, talk intelligently and as if actually interested in being employed, is vital and can be taught. It was to me.

The fact that those attributes often currently come with what the late Labour MP Willie Hamilton once described as the 'bland, characterless vowels of the English middle classes,' is neither here nor there. Accent is a symptom, not a cause, of the problem.

The commission also seems to be blaming employers and recruitment agencies for difficulties facing those with working-class origins seeking top jobs. But those are easy targets.

Is it possibly nothing to do with employers, but because young people are leaving some schools without careers advice that includes how to present themselves for employment?

Giving young people an awareness of the way the real world works is nothing to do with class, or 'poshness', but everything to do with a full education.

What a pity the commission has gone for such a glib and distracting phrase as 'poshness test', when the essential point is right: people from working-class backgrounds are disadvantaged. The argument only unravels from that point.

The commission notes that between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of jobs offered by leading accountancy firms are to graduates of the 24 Russell Group of leading universities.

But why is that an implied criticism of the accountancy firms, rather than the remaining 85 universities in the UK?

Of course, there may be more in the full report than in the newspaper coverage of its key findings. But if there is not, then it suffers from a frustrating absence of rigour.

For instance, the commission says that more than two-thirds of job vacancies in top City firms are taken by graduates who went to private or grammar schools. Grammar schools are many things, mostly to do with academic selection. But they are not 'posh' in the born-with-a-silver-spoon way understood by the word.

Surely the question to ask is why are private school and grammar school pupils making it? The heresy here might be to wonder whether they are simply better prepared for the workplace, regardless of how academic those individuals may be.

Lack of mobility may also be down to lack of networking. Contrary to the commission implication that a social freemasonry exists in the City to promote chums, and sons of daughters of chums, the world I know actually revolves on professional networks driven by competence and shared interests.

Schools and universities would be offering their future alumni a service if they taught them how to use social media to advance themselves professionally; how to create a valuable professional network from scratch, for instance. It is regularly done.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission has raised an important issue, but needs to ask more uncomfortable questions instead of letting a raft of percentages imply an argument. We actually do live in an age where businesses yearn to hire people of calibre, however they speak. The real issue is education, not elocution.

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