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  • Author or Editor: Louise Ashley x
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In the face of the challenges outlined, this final chapter concludes the book by considering what those who wish to see progress in this area can do instead. It underlines that continued efforts at social mobility may result in small wins but returns to the underlying paradox running throughout the book: as City firms make gestures toward social mobility, this functions to legitimate the very inequalities that make this less likely to happen, and which they help to create. These inequalities have negative consequences for all of us and our collective acceptance of associated extremes at both ends of the scale of income and wealth denotes a set of norms that are not worthy of respect. The chapter concludes by underlining that we must challenge these social conventions, create a different set of cultural scripts, and drive a more radical response, from organizations and the state, which would look far beyond current concerns with social mobility and tackle deep and persistent structural inequalities of income and wealth.

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This chapter introduces the research questions addressed in this book and summarizes the core arguments. It explains that the book is about inequalities, culture and social class in the City of London; specifically who has occupied the City’s ‘top jobs’ over the past 50 years, how they got them, what makes these processes unfair, and why diversity does not drive progressive change. It introduces a key tension, namely that while the City has constructed a meritocratic narrative, its ‘top jobs’ remain dominated by children of the affluent middle and upper-middle class, who have privileged access to its exceptional rewards. The chapter explains that the City has carried out an impressive sleight of hand, as this meritocratic reputation suggests that access is inclusive of anybody on the basis of ability and effort and co-exists with exclusive recruitment practices that generate status by suggesting these skills are also rather scarce. In recent decades, unfair outcomes have been exposed, but attempts to diversify these ‘top jobs’ have had a cosmetic effect. The book concludes that their primary function has been to help legitimate the much wider inequalities of income and wealth the City helps to create.

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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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Author:

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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