Post college, before I saw sense and headed over to London, I was wasting my hill-farming-background time among golfist lawyer snobs in Belfast. In job interviews with law firms in Belfast, the killer question was always delivered with a smile like Castlereagh: “And do you have any relatives in the profession?“
“And fuck you too“, I thought to myself.
I couldn’t get a light in Belfast.
Then I went to London, and, interviewing with some of the biggest corporate firms in the world, I had 9 job offers in a couple of months. My background, my “relatives in the profession”, my rural NW Irish accent, none of that mattered a damn.
Recently, I received a “D&I” (diversity and inclusion) report from a reputable recruitment agency. It “focuses [on the] key challenges [of] gender, gender identity, sexuality, age, ethnicity, and disability“.
In other words, pretty much every right-on box ticked there, albeit I’m sure that, nowadays, there was a bit of a debate before they included “sexuality” (in third place behind “gender” and “gender identity”), given that everybody now knows that “sexuality” is all in your head and doesn’t really have an objective existence, lol.
That aside, can you spot the glaring omission?
2019 research at Yale noted that, if you have a lower class accent, regardless of your qualifications and experience, as soon as you open your mouth, you’re fucked:
“The study, to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, demonstrates that people can accurately assess a stranger’s socioeconomic position – defined by their income, education, and occupation status – based on brief speech patterns and shows that these snap perceptions influence hiring managers in ways that favor job applicants from higher social classes.
“Our study shows that even during the briefest interactions, a person’s speech patterns shape the way people perceive them, including assessing their competence and fitness for a job,” said Michael Kraus, assistant professor of organizational behavior at the Yale School of Management. “While most hiring managers would deny that a job candidate’s social class matters, in reality, the socioeconomic position of an applicant or their parents is being assessed within the first seconds they speak — a circumstance that limits economic mobility and perpetuates inequality.””
A couple of years ago, the UK’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission accused London City law firms of applying a ‘poshness test’ by selecting staff using criteria such as travel experiences and accents. Naturally, this was denied, but I wonder.
Much of the bias is unconscious, and is down to a lack of awareness and ‘recruiting in
one’s own image’. As an Irish person working in a City law firm in the 90s, I had a great time – I was in a fair and welcoming environment, largely devoid of race or sex discrimination. With an Irish accent, and especially a soft rural accent like I have, you pass under the class radar. English people struggle to differentiate between Irish accents anyway; and they certainly are not attuned to any class distinctions in Irish accents in the way that a middle class Irish person would be; so they can’t “place” you on any social totem pole.
However, it also struck me as ironic that the only remaining bias of English law firms was class bias by English people against fellow English people – you’d have had a damned poor chance of being hired in any law firm in the Square Mile if you rocked up with, e.g., a strong Scouse, Geordie or Brummie accent; and I don’t imagine that’s changed much.
This bias wasn’t (at least then) down to any particular animus towards people from such parts of England – it was explained to me that corporate clients simply ‘wouldn’t trust the commercial competence of anyone with a strong regional English accent‘.
Frankly, I didn’t buy this; not least because it should be an irrelevancy for non-English clients (who presumably wouldn’t know the difference, or care), and many newer UK clients were not necessarily headed by posh people. In fact, one or two UK clients in my experience used to complain about all the toffs they met in law firms who ‘weren’t living in the real world’.
One such client I had then was a <former barrow boy in Smithfield market> turned millionaire industrialist – he spoke in a rasping gangster growl, called you ‘GUVNA’, fought every point with you and occasionally went off on colourful swearing rants. He was sound and straight up – you knew where you stood. It was funny however – once my boss was out and he left me to meet yer man to deal with some issue. The meeting was the most fun I had at work all day. Despite that, next day, my boss apologised for ‘inflicting that gentleman’ on you – the assumption that I’d have been uncomfortable dealing with him. When in reality he was like a London version of some of the people I grew up with …
He was often “too busy” to come into our fancy office (I just think it was too buttoned-up for him), so I’d meet him, briefcase in hand, in Dirty Dicks pub or somewhere, nearer to where he hung out:
“Nah en y’Oirish robbing bastid, abaht ya fakking bill!” Then you’d get several matey punches on the shoulder and he buy you a pint. Lunchtime or not. Then he’d leer at any nearby woman and was delighted when you egged him on, not expecting that from a “cahn” in a suit. He always re-instructed me, and I wished I’d had more clients like him, but he was a once-off. But, like Ian Dury:
he had the swearing down to a fine art. It was 50% of his vocabulary, and he genuinely was unaware of it.
Social class, that old refugee from real politics, is the elephant in the hip atomised identity politics room. God forbid that, for instance, a poor bloke would ever have anything in common with a poor woman. Class discrimination is rampant; but. because its inclusive implications sit uneasily inside the “narcissism of small differences” that afflicts modish, priggish, identity politics, class politics nowadays never gets a mention,