Why does the City of London, despite an apparent commitment to recruitment and progression based on objective merit within its hiring practices, continue to reproduce the status quo?
Written by a leading expert on diversity and elite professions, this book examines issues of equality in the City, what its practitioners say in public, and what they think behind closed doors.
Drawing on research, interviews, practitioner literature and internal reports, it argues that hiring practices in the City are highly discriminating in favour of a narrow pool of affluent applicants, and future progress may only be achieved by the state taking a greater role in organisational life. It calls for a policy shift at both the organisational and governmental level to the implications of widening inequality in the UK.
both shape behaviour and provide meaning to everyday life. 27 Another important characteristic of myths is that they often deal with origins or, in other words, how ‘something’ came to be and how a particular institution or cultural expectation or norm was produced . 28
Understanding the properties of myths is useful as the origins of the City’s mythofmerit lie in real changes originating in the 1980s, when power was increasingly transferred from family members to trained managers. 29 Firms began to introduce new, more bureaucratic, career structures which
to snobbery (an accusation my report did not make), the author avoids engaging with its primary message, which was that in many job roles, superior performance (or perceptions of such) is more available to people who are already privileged and that ‘merit’ is systematically misrecognized among those who are ‘posh’. 44
This sort of discursive contortion is a fairly common tactic in discussions such as these and helps divert our attention from the real issues at stake. It is also worth saying that where challenges to the mythofmerit are resisted by current
This chapter provides context for the analysis that follows, including to define the City of London and the roles which comprise its ‘top jobs’, and introduce key debates including its role in driving steep inequalities of income and wealth, controversies surrounding social mobility and myths of merit, and how these factors relate. It also introduces the theoretical framework that provides the structure for the book, showing how Bourdieusian and Weberian approaches to social class are combined with neo-institutional theory to explain how labour markets reproduce inequalities while simultaneously helping to affirm hierarchies of occupational status. Finally, it outlines the book’s contribution to recent academic debates, introduces the data on which it is based, and considers questions of confidentiality, ethics, including as they relate to and the author’s own background and position.
steep hierarchies of income and wealth and contributed to uneven respect, as those at the ‘top’ are granted much more of it.
In his analysis of similar trends, American academic Daniel Markovits has explained that to the extent modern capitalist societies approximate a meritocracy or are represented as such, this represents a ‘trap’ which drives constant competition, undermines enjoyment of life, exacerbates inequality, and makes just about everyone, even the ‘winners’, miserable. 1 In his treatise on the mythofmerit, 2 professor of philosophy Kwame Anthony
think it exposes under their skin because if you’re really friendly with an analyst and some director you know, you’re going to have hidden advantage going through the application process later on. I don’t think they want to tell you this … there’s rules, I doubt [banks] would ever tell anyone, but that you need to know to be effective.’
Amol offers a clearsighted view of the hypocrisies that result when mythsofmerit cover the actuality of bias and unfair practices. As he said, he and his peers were encouraged to network to expand their ‘social capital’ which in
wish to be seen as such.
Academic researchers building from the work of Bourdieu have often argued when it comes to people from under-represented backgrounds or marginalized groups that it is not only that their talents are misrecognized but also that they might misrecognize the ways in which they are discriminated against, especially when unfair processes are obscured within the mythofmerit. For Bourdieu, this is the essence of symbolic power and is one way in which evidently unequal societies in contemporary capitalism reproduce themselves over time. In
subordination within wider structures of inequality and power which provides them with a form of counter-capital which they use to develop alternative conceptions of their worth. Critically, both groups demonstrate agency, though with different purposes and in different ways.
There is, though, a third group who, as I explained, offered more qualified consent. For them it is possible that exhortations toward upward social mobility may have an especially ambivalent effect. This group, often women and ethnically diverse, also challenged the mythof ‘merit’ constructed within