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.
A Note on Definitions, Terminology and Measurement
There is considerable debate on whether when using the terms Black and White one, both or either, should be awarded upper case initials. Both are problematic terms as they homogenize and label though one argument in favour of capitalizing Black is to indicate that this is a social category not a natural one, and that the label ‘black’ generates that identity. There is an argument that adopting this approach represents a form of cultural capital and that white should have the lower case initial until dignity and racial equity has been achieved, and in this book, this is the approach I have adopted. For a fuller discussion of these issues see for example: https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/06/time-to-capitalize-blackand-white/613159/
Macmillan, L. Tyler, C. and Vignoles, A. (2014) ‘Who Gets the Top Jobs? The Role of Family Background and Networks in Recent Graduates Access to High-status Professions’ Journal of Social Policy, pp. 1-29., 10.1017/S0047279414000634.
Empson, L., Muzio, D., Broschak J.P. & Hinings, C.R. (2015) ‘Researching Professional Service Firms: An Introduction and Overview’, in L. Empson, D. Muzio, J.P. Broschak, & C.R. Hinings (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Professional Service Firms. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Pp1–22.
See, for example: Engelen, E., Ertürk, I., Froud, J., Johal, S., Leaver, A., Moran, M., … & Williams, K. (2011) After the Great Complacence: Financial Crisis and the Politics of Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
See, for example: Stiglitz, J. (2013) The Price of Inequality. London: Penguin UK. Bonica, A., McCarty, N., Poole, K.T. & Rosenthal, H. (2013) ‘Why hasn’t democracy slowed rising inequality?’ Journal of Economic Perspectives 27(3): 103–24.
See: Scambler, G. (2018) ‘Heaping blame on shame: “Weaponising stigma” for neoliberal times’. The Sociological Review 66(4): 766–82. Scambler writes of how capitalist executives use their class capital to buy sufficient power and quotes American historian David Landes who suggests that ‘men of wealth buy men of power’.
For example: Bapuji, H., Husted, B.W., Lu, J. & Mir, R. (2018) ‘Value creation, appropriation, and distribution: How firms contribute to societal economic inequality’. Business & Society 57(6): 983–1009.
The term BAME is used in the UK to refer to ‘Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic’ communities. This term is problematic as it suggests this is a homogenous category within which people have similar experiences when this is far from the case. It also sets up an overly simplistic binary between people who are ‘BAME’ and those who are white. In the remainder of this book, while recognizing this can be problematic too, I use the term ‘ethnically diverse’ and as I introduce individual participants in my research, wherever relevant I aim to make their ethnicity (as self-identified by them) and related experiences clear, while simultaneously taking care to protect anonymity and confidentiality.
Lawrence, T.B. & Suddaby, R. (2006) ‘Institutions and Institutional Work’, in S. Clegg, C. Hardy, T.B. Lawrence & R.W. Nord (eds) The Sage Handbook of Organization Studies (2nd edn). London: SAGE Publications, pp 215–54.
Chapman, S.D. (1986) ‘Aristocracy and meritocracy in merchant banking’. The British Journal of Sociology 37(2): 180–93; Chapman, S. & Chapman, S.D. (2005) The Rise of Merchant Banking. London: Taylor & Francis.
Beaverstock, J.V. & Smith, J. (1996) ‘Lending jobs to global cities: Skilled international labour migration, investment banking and the City of London’. Urban Studies 33(8): 1377–94, p 1380. See also: Blanden, M. (1986) ‘Bigger role for foreign banks in the city’. The Banker, November, pp 69–124.
Beaverstock & Smith, ‘Lending jobs to global cities’. See also: Leyshon, A. & Thrift, N.J. (1992) Liberalisation and consolidation: The Single European Market and the remaking of European financial capital’. Environment and Planning A 24(1): 49–81.
Thrift, N., Leyshon, A. & Daniels, P.W. (1987) ‘“Sexy Greedy”: The New International Financial System, the City of London and the South East of England’. Department of Geography, University of Liverpool.
French, S., Leyshon, A. & Thrift, N. (2009) ‘A very geographical crisis: The making and breaking of the 2007–2008 financial crisis’. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society 2(2): 287–302, p 293.
‘Tim Nice But Dim’ was a character played by British comedian Harry Enfield in a series of sketch shows in the 1990s. He was a caricature of an upper-middle-class man whose privileged background provided opportunities despite limited intellect.
New universities refers to former polytechnics or other institutions given university status through the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, or an institution that has been granted university status since 1992 without receiving a royal charter. New universities often seen as lower status than old universities which includes the Russell Group.
This might be seen as an instance of statistical discrimination where, as Lauren Rivera explains, ‘employers infer the ability of a specific individual based on their perceptions of the average ability of the social group to which that person belongs.’ In this example, hiring managers believe that on average a Russell Group graduate is more competent than applicants educated elsewhere. See: Rivera, L. (2020) ‘Employer Decision Making’. Annual Review of Sociology 46: 215–32.
See: McDowell, L. (1997) Capital Culture: Gender at Work in the City. London: John Wiley & Sons. Hall, S. & Appleyard, L. (2011) ‘Trans-local academic credentials and the (re) production of financial elites’. Globalisation, Societies and Education 9(2): 247–64.
In England and Wales, students take final year exams when they are 17 or 18, either A-levels or AS-levels. During the 2010s, when they applied to universities their results were translated to points, as follows: A* 140; A 120; B 100; C 80; D 60; E 40. AS points are A 60; B 50; C 40; D 30; E 20. Students in Scotland take Scottish Highers.
The ‘General Certificate of Secondary Education’ or GCSE is an academic qualification in a particular subject, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, at the age of 16. State schools in Scotland use the Scottish Qualifications Certificate instead.
See, for example: Saunders, P. (1996) Unequal but Fair: A Study of Class Barriers in Britain. London: Civitas; Saunders, P. (2002) ‘Reflections on the meritocracy debate in Britain: A response to Richard Breen and John Goldthorpe’. The British Journal of Sociology 53(4): 559–74.
Thiele, T., Pope, D., Singleton, A., Snape, D. & Stanistreet, D. (2017) ‘Experience of disadvantage: The influence of identity on engagement in working class students’ educational trajectories to an elite university’. British Educational Research Journal 43(1): 49–67.
In his book Social Class in the 21stCentury, Mike Savage explains that elite professions such as law and finance recruit from within their own class networks and that the more economic capital is associated with a specific job, the more likely it is that it draws from privileged backgrounds.
See, for example: Sackett, P.R., Zhang, C., Berry, C.M. & Lievens, F. (2021) ‘Revisiting meta-analytic estimates of validity in personnel selection: Addressing systematic overcorrection for restriction of range’. Journal of Applied Psychology.
For example: Garavan, T., Morley, M., Heraty, N., Lucewicz, J. & Suchodolski, A. (1998) ‘Managing human resources in a post-command economy: personnel administration or strategic HRM’. Personnel Review 27(3): 200–12.
Deephouse, D.L. & Suchman, M. (2013) ‘Legitimacy in organizational institutionalism’. In R. Greenwood, C. Oliver, T.B. Lawrence & R.E. Meyer (eds) The Sage Handbook of Organizational institutionalism. London: Sage, p 60.
For example: Blanden, J. & Macmillan, L. (2014) Education and intergenerational mobility: Help or hindrance? Working Paper 14–01. London: Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, London School of Economics.
Macmillan, L. Tyler, C. & Vignoles, A. (2014) ‘Who Gets the Top Jobs? The Role of Family Background and Networks in Recent Graduates Access to High-status Professions’. Journal of Social Policy 1–29, 10.1017/S0047279414000634.
Engelen, E., Ertürk, I., Froud, J., Johal, S., Leaver, A., Moran, M., … & Williams, K. (2011) After the Great Complacence: Financial Crisis and the Politics of Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p 143. See also: Kynaston, D. (2002) The City of London: A Club No More, 1945–2000 (Vol. 510). London: Random House, pp 318–25.
Meier, L. (2016) ‘Dwelling in different localities: Identity performances of a white transnational professional elite in the City of London and the Central Business District of Singapore’. Cultural Studies 30(3): 483–505.
See, for example: Roberts, J., & Coutts, J. A. (1992) ‘Feminization and professionalization: a review of an emerging literature on the development of accounting in the United Kingdom’. Accounting, Organizations and Society 17(3–4): 379–95; Bolton, S.C. & Muzio, D. (2007) ‘Can’t live with ‘em; Can’t live without ‘em: gendered segmentation in the legal profession’. Sociology 41(1): 47–64.
See, for example: Sutton Trust (2014) Pathways to Banking: Improving Access for Students from Non-Privileged Backgrounds. Research by The Boston Consulting Group for the Sutton Trust. London: The Sutton Trust.
Based on performance and in her fascinating work on this subject, Katerina Hecht has demonstrated that pay-setting techniques in elite firms play an important role, which allows those in the top 1 per cent to legitimate their incomes as merit based. See: Hecht, K. (2021) ‘It’s the value that we bring’: performance pay and top income earners’ perceptions of inequality. Socio-Economic Review.
For example, see: Sommerlad, H. & Ashley, L. (2015) ‘Diversity and inclusion in professional service firms’, in L. Empson, D. Muzio, J. Broschak & B. Hinings (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Professional Service Firms. Oxford: Oxford university Press, pp 452–75.
Kumra, S. (2014) ‘Busy doing nothing: An exploration of the disconnect between gender equity issues faced by large law firms in the United Kingdom and the diversity management initiatives devised to address them’. Fordham Law Review 83: 2277.
Engelen, E., Ertürk, I., Froud, J., Johal, S., Leaver, A., Moran, M., … & Williams, K. (2011) After the Great Complacence: Financial Crisis and the Politics of Reform. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 37–38.
In sociological and policy literature there has been significant and often heated debate on orientations of white working class people towards education and work, and whether people in this group suffer disadvantage relative, for example, to people who are ethnically diverse. In recent times this debate has taken place on especially divisive terms and it is not the purpose of this book to specifically engage in this conversation, not least because my research predominantly explores young people’s experiences as they encounter higher education and the labour market, and is less focused on factors which inform earlier decisions. I will explain in this chapter and those that follow that organizational cultures in the City can be hostile to people from working-class backgrounds no matter what their ethnicity and that structural and systemic biases against people who are ethnically diverse can be especially pronounced.
In 1992, Michel Lamont pointed out that children growing up in professional homes, therefore, have understandings of work that include the idea that working long hours is both expected and is viewed as a virtuous practice. See: Lamont, M. (1992) Money, Morals, and Manners: The Culture of the French and the American Upper-middle Class. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
See, for example: Foucault, M. (1991) The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press; Foucault, M. (1997) ‘On genealogy and ethics: An overview of work in progress’, in M. Foucault and P.D. Rainbow (eds) Essential Works of Foucault 1954–1984, Vol. 1: Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. New York: Penguin Books, pp 253–80.
See, for example: Townley, B. (1993) ‘Foucault, Power/Knowledge, and its relevance for human resource management’. Academy of Management Review 18(3): 518–45; Anderson-Gough, F., Grey, C. & Robson, K. (2018) Making up Accountants: The Organizational and Professional Socialization of Trainee Chartered Accountants. London: Routledge.
Farquharson, C. & Greaves, E. (2021) ‘An evaluation of the impact of the Social Mobility Foundation programmes on education and employment outcomes’. Available at: https://ifs.org.uk/publications/15461
See, Milkie, M.A., Warner, C.H. & Ray, R. (2014) ‘Current theorizing and future directions in the social psychology of social class inequalities’, in J.D. McLeod, E.J. Lawler & M. Schwalbe (eds) Handbook of the Social Psychology of Inequality, Dordrecht: Springer, pp 547–73.
Pache, A.C., & Santos, F. (2013) Embedded in hybrid contexts: How individuals in organizations respond to competing institutional logics. In Institutional logics in action, part B. Bingley: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
See: Dobbin, F., Schrage, D. & Kalev, A. (2015) ‘Rage against the iron cage: The varied effects of bureaucratic personnel reforms on diversity’. American Sociological Review 80: 1014–44; Kalev, A. (2009) ‘Cracking the glass cages? Restructuring and ascriptive inequality at work’. American Journal of Sociology 114: 1591–643; Kalev, A., Dobbin, F. & Kelly, E. (2006) ‘Best practices or best guesses? Assessing the efficacy of corporate affirmative action and diversity policies’. American Sociological Review 71: 589–617.