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Class discrimination and unconcious bias plague recruitment and promotion opportunities, admit HRDs

Social class discrimination and unconscious bias in the workplace are the new equality frontiers, according to law firm Pannone has revealed.

But HR professionals do not believe that legislation is the answer to stamping out these forms of discrimination.

The survey found that more than half 52% of HR directors and managers believe social class inequality exists in the workplace, while 79% said that unconscious bias is widespread in many aspects of working life such as recruitment and promotion opportunities.

But less than a third of those surveyed (27%) think legislation is the solution to tackling social class discrimination.

A DWP survey last year found widespread name-bias against 'foreign sounding' names and the Liberal Democratss proposed a policy to introduce 'name-blank' job application forms.

The policy was later dropped when the party formed the Coalition Government.

But it appears that employers would not welcome 'name-black' application forms. While more than three-quarters said that unconscious bias is prevalent, only 37% believe that their introduction would be a good idea.

The survey also revealed that more than 90% of HR professionals think that inequality is still rife in the workplace, particularly between the sexes.

Jim Lister, head of employment at Pannone, said: "It is not surprising that employers are reluctant to see new equality legislation - they are still getting to grips with the introduction of the Equality Act 18 months ago which gave a major shake-up to equal opportunities legislation.

"There is also recognition from employment lawyers and HR professionals that legislating against social class discrimination would be extremely difficult. Is a person's social class defined at birth? Or, does someone born working class 'become' middle class when they secure a professional job such as a doctor or lawyer?"

Lister added: "Historically, as each new form of inequality was identified, there has always been some opposition to legislation. However, the fact remains that whilst equality legislation is no 'quick fix', it does change attitudes over time.

"Blatant acts of discrimination are far less common than they once were and the vast majority of people believe - at least on a conscious level - that everyone deserves equality of opportunity regardless of any protected characteristics they may have."

Elsewhere, despite high unemployment in the 16-24 NEET age group at a time when employers are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of job applications for low-skill jobs, the survey found that only 22 per cent had increased qualification requirements for entry level positions - for example asking for a degree where only a post-16 qualification was previously required.