It is difficult to determine which caste Sabah Januska belongs to. “Class was not something I cared about much, but it seemed important to others,” he says.
He runs his own business as a product strategic consultant, he considers himself middle class, but what is his background? He was raised by his stay-at-home mother from Pakistan in the East End of London and attended public school. But his mother came from a middle class family and went to university just like Januska.
At some point in her career, she wondered if his background was comparable to that of his privately educated colleagues. After I studied physics at Bath University, I worked in the field of business intelligence.
“I seem to do my job better than others,” Januska says, but she believes she will always be on a slower path. “I do not have professional parents. Some had a start in their lives. I came a little late.” Eventually, he worked as an independent consultant.
The caste issue in the workplace came to light in September when professional service firm PricewaterhouseCoopers revealed the pay gap between its UK employees. PricewaterhouseCoopers employs 14 per cent of its UK employees in the lower socioeconomic class and earns less than their counterparts, with a pay gap of 12.1 per cent. Meanwhile, rival KPMG has stated that it wants to increase the ratio of working class partners from 23 percent to 29 percent by 2030.
Sarah Churchman, head of diversity, content and well-being at PricewaterhouseCoopers in the UK, says the class “clearly began to grow” after discovering race and gender. “Sometimes we make assumptions about people’s willingness to get promoted based on‘ they have refined themselves and people are worthy of them and the best version ’.
But collecting employee data is complicated. The definition of class is complex because it is not a property protected by law, says Sarah Atkinson, chief executive of the charity Social Mobility Foundation.
“You need to find a way to ask questions that (by employees) can understand and answer. The main goal is to find a question that identifies one’s social background, is easy to understand and answer, gets high response rates.
Asking what the employee’s parents did when they were 14 – the method used by KPMG and PwC – is said to be the most direct, government-recommended method. For in-depth analysis, this question can be linked to other questions such as what kind of school a person attended, whether they are entitled to free school meals and whether their parents attended university.
But people want to see their success by their innate talents, rather than being supported by models of education and family and relationships.
Recent research by Sam Friedman, an associate professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, has found that “the rich often misrepresent themselves as the working class.” Through interviews, Friedman and co-authors, professionals approach their family history and portray their humble appearance and “tell the story upwards”, which feeds the story of entitlement.
Employees fear that exposing their background will harm their opportunities. “In order for people to share their data honestly, we need a clear explanation of how that data can make a difference,” Atkinson says.
Eighty percent of UK employees at PricewaterhouseCoopers share their social and economic background. Reluctance is high when hiring. “It took many years,” Churchman says. “You don’t have to ask people once, you have to keep asking. Putting information in the public domain is the best way for people to talk about it, both internally and externally.”
Friedman believes others will follow PwC and KPMG: “They have the resources. He argues that the bosses’ actions against the caste are irregular – for example, has increased the participation of students from higher education and low-income backgrounds, but this is not reflected in the employees in his own institutions.
In the United Kingdom, the debate over the “marginalized white working class” is fraught with political danger. There is concern that class is being used to reduce the importance of racial inequality.
Friedmann argues that UK employers are ahead of other countries in class analysis and supports multidisciplinary analysis. “Gathering data and thinking about class and social movement gives you the value of looking at the intersections between class and other characteristics” – for example, whether the gender pay gap is driven by working class women.
For all the efforts of employers, large forces are at play, says Louis Ashley, a senior lecturer in institutional research at the Royal Holloway at the University of London.
“Class inequalities in the workplace often arise from structural and organizational inequalities that are rooted in society as a whole,” he says.
Often, the solutions are “personal and psychological, for example, with the focus of training on unconscious dependence, which has a limited effect”.
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