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UK economy worse off by £270bn per year due to workplace discrimination

James Bennett

After surveying and interviewing young people in the UK (18-25-year-olds), a report from grad recruiter Debut found over a third (35%) of participants are put off joining a business if they perceive the workforce to be made up predominantly of middle and upper-class employees – extrapolated out this equates to 2.5 million young people. Contributor James Bennett, CEO – Debut.

The OECD reveals it would take 150 years for a child from a poor UK family to earn the national average wage. To couple this, the Social Mobility Commission reveals those from better off backgrounds are almost 80% more likely to be in a professional job than their working class peers. This is costing businesses and the wider economy enormously: the cost of poor social mobility and workplace discrimination equates to a staggering £270 billion per year.

James Turner, CEO at Sutton Trust – who Debut interviewed for this report – stated, “disadvantaged young people are still struggling to get ahead and face worse outcomes than their more advantaged peers. The UK is a particularly class-based society, which hasn’t changed significantly over time.”

In addition, the research found two thirds (66%) of graduates felt they had to change who they are, including their appearance in order to ‘make a good impression’ during an interview. And the majority (64%) of candidates said they weren’t able to express themselves as individuals during the application process. “We need more opportunities to show who we are, and our potential,” said a 21-year-old female participant, “filling in an application form or submitting your CV is not enough.

James Bennett, CEO of Debut, comments on the report, “Our research reveals the majority of UK businesses are guilty of ‘professional exclusion’ and as such are missing out on a huge pool of tremendously talented young people from diverse backgrounds. This is not only stunting business’ own growth but also severely affecting the wider economy. It is imperative that businesses must do more than just pay lip service to diversity and inclusion and start taking real action to ensure they are in-step with modern social trends and viewpoints.”

Other key findings:

Attitudes towards businesses – the majority (61%) of respondents don’t think businesses are doing enough to hire people from diverse (defined here as: gender, sexuality, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic) backgrounds.

Salary transparency – the majority of respondents (67%) would be put off applying for a job that isn’t immediately transparent about the salary. This was mainly because respondents didn’t know their worth, or they needed a clear number to plan their living expenses.

One female 21-year-old respondent stated, “I don’t even bother applying to ‘competitive salary’ listings unless they’re a really well-known firm.”

Demand for personalisation – many participants wanted a more direct and personal approach to graduate recruitment:

One individual noted, “graduate recruitment for any of the large companies is so impersonal and factory-like. I don’t think business recruiters really care about the mental health impact of the interview process on the candidates.”

Another said, some sort of feedback – even if it’s just ‘you aren’t experienced enough’, or ‘your values do not meet ours’, or even ‘we were just full up’ – would provide some support to candidates.”

Charlotte Leer, Emerging Talent Recruitment Manager at HSBC – who Debut interviewed for this report – added, “As this timely report shows – the scale of this issue is vast. However, all businesses should be taking steps to address this. For example, we’ve taken the bold decision to focus on a strengths-behaviours-values based approach. This enables all candidates to present themselves as they are, rather than how we would like them to be, while also removing the filters and biases arising from a CV-driven approach.”

Bennett adds,Today’s graduates don’t just demand equality – they expect it. And as graduates become increasingly more aware – and more vocal – about such issues, the talent pool will dry up for companies that aren’t putting enough of an emphasis on this.”

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