Why does the City of London reproduce inequality and prevent social mobility despite an apparent commitment to recruitment and progression based on objective merit? Louise Ashley, a leading expert on diversity and elite professions, explores what occupants of the City’s ‘top jobs’ say about unfair practices contrasted with what they do, to explain the City’s persistent ‘class ceiling.’ Drawing on research, in-depth interviews and practitioner literature, she shows how hiring and promotion practices in the City are highly discriminating in favour of a narrow pool of people from more advantaged backgrounds who have privileged access to its exceptional rewards. She explains how this unfair and exclusionary reality has been obscured beneath a meritocratic veneer which suggests access to the City’s ‘top jobs’ relies on hard work and very special intellect skills, so that the concentration of rewards is truly deserved. More recently, unfair outcomes have been exposed and City firms have made attempts to diversify, operationalised via organisational social mobility programmes. However, as these efforts are driven by reputational concerns, they have a largely cosmetic effect. Meanwhile, the young working-class people who aspire to City jobs become pawns in this game and often experience quite painful psychic effects. Addressing these failures will require a radical policy shift at both the organisational and governmental level to focus not only on social mobility but also on tackling the very inequalities the City helps to create.
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