Disadvantaged young people still face multiple barriers in graduate recruitment, report warns

Candidates ‘being put off’ roles with employers perceived as middle class

Employers must act to ensure graduate recruitment practices are inclusive for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds or risk losing vital talent, a report has warned.

Analysis of the latest evidence on social mobility in the workplace, by recruitment firm Debut, found individuals from socially diverse backgrounds were still being excluded despite positive efforts to tackle other areas of discrimination such as gender.

A survey of graduates, conducted as part of the report Working With Class: The State of Social Immobility in Graduate Recruitment, found more than a third (35 per cent) of those aged 18-25 said they were put off joining a business whose workforce was perceived to be made up of mainly middle and upper-class employees.

If extrapolated across the population, the report said this could mean up to 2.5 million young people were being dissuaded from joining organisations because of perceptions of class. 

It also found 66 per cent of the 165 graduates surveyed said they felt they had to change who they were, including their appearance, in order to “make a good impression” during an interview.

The majority (64 per cent) said they weren’t able to express themselves as individuals during the application process. Respondents also reported needing more opportunities to “show who we are and our potential” because filling in an application form or submitting a CV was insufficient.

More than 70 per cent of graduate candidates didn’t feel sufficiently supported through their journey, while 49 per cent of students didn’t feel ready to apply when applications opened – citing self-confidence, self-awareness in terms of skills, and lack of market knowledge among other reasons.

James Bennett, CEO of Debut, said the analysis revealed the majority of UK businesses were guilty of “professional exclusion” and as such were missing out on a huge pool of talent. 

“This is not only stunting businesses’ own growth but also severely affecting the wider economy,” he said. “It is imperative that businesses 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.”

The report also collated recent research on social mobility from other organisations, citing figures from the Social Mobility Commission that showed those from better off backgrounds were almost 80 per cent more likely to be in a professional job than their working-class peers.

It also quoted analysis from the Sutton Trust, which suggested the failure to address social mobility was costing the UK economy £270 billion a year.

James Turner, CEO of the Sutton Trust, said in its report that disadvantaged young people were still struggling to get ahead and faced worse outcomes than their more advantaged peers. “Every part of the process is a greater challenge for people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” he said.

The report recommended employers create a strong digital media presence which would provide effective reach across the diverse communities and geographies of the UK.

It added that facilitating conversations and networks would be enormously helpful to graduates unfamiliar with certain professions, companies and roles.

Offering personalised feedback after interviews was also recommended after one interviewee stated: “Graduate recruitment for any of the large companies is so impersonal and factory-like, the computer says no and no human seems to care.”

Other recommendations included considering the value of contextual admissions, as originally introduced by the University of Cambridge; introducing structured interviews, to ensure all candidates are judged against the same questioning criteria; and using diverse evaluation or interview teams to ensure a range of perspectives on each candidate.

This should be backed up with investment in creating and sustaining a culture where everyone feels that they belong, the report added.