Why the tech sector often excludes the working class

11 Apr, 2017

Terry Manyeh is a researcher at RECLAIM, an award-winning social change and leadership development charity based in Manchester. He will be speaking at Tech North’s Digital Jobs Action Summit on 27th April 2017 in Leeds.

Free tickets are available for the summit now.

Educating All is a project started by recent university graduates from Manchester, commissioned by RECLAIM. The programme seeks to tackle the barriers faced by working class students within higher education.

Having conducted research across a number of universities with a wide range of working class students, Educating All will now work with individual university partners to create tailored solutions to improve the recruitment, retention, attainment and well-being of working class students.

Our findings

Our research found that 74 percent of state school educated students felt that class was a barrier when integrating at university, compared with just a third of privately educated students.

Key findings from the report were:

  • Working class students still fail to see universities as a ‘places for them’. Many lack a sense of belonging and entitlement to their place at university and feel isolated and alienated in that environment.
  • Working class students tend to lack the sense of confidence and entitlement to their opinion demonstrated by their middle class peers. Some may be intimidated by interactions with tutors, people in positions of authority, and peers from private school backgrounds.
  • Mental health support needs improvement. Measures to improve mental health support include increased funding and resources, greater awareness and understanding among staff and students about this issue, and more effective promotion.

What does this mean for the tech industry in the North?

These findings can often translate themselves into the labour market, especially in professions that require high levels of qualification.

Even after university, working class students with the same qualifications as their better-off peers are still likely to be paid on average £2,242 less. Not only is this unfair, it is also a massive waste as employees are missing out on huge pool of talent that often only need the opportunity to prove themselves.

Research by the Debrett’s Foundation found seven in every 10 young people aged 16-25 use family connections to get their first job.

Other than opportunity, ‘belonging’ is often the number one issue in terms of barriers faced by working class young people. This problem is heightened in professional occupations, which traditionally consist of employees from more privileged backgrounds.

A key finding from the Fairer Futures report produced by RECLAIM states that seeing ‘people like me’ in an organisation can make all the difference to young people’s impressions of what they are capable of, and what career path to take. When they do get into an industry or organisation, they need to feel they can fit in.

Cultural capital

The culture at many employers, including those in the technology sector, can be alien to those from lower socio-economic families. Cultural Capital – the non-financial social assets that can enable success, such as style of language, dress or physical experience – often puts working class students at a disadvantage when competing with their middle class peers. Having family who have had professional jobs, especially those within the same sector, is a form of capital that many working class students are not afforded.

The technology industry in the North has the potential to be a force for good in terms of social mobility within the region. Diversity, we believe, can lead to a thriving North and an equally thriving sector.

If the subjects discussed are of interest to you or your organisation please contact

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