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The working classes are an ethnic minority in banks

I’ve spent my two decade career working for investment banks in London. I welcome the current emphasis on diversity, but I think it doesn’t go far enough. While emphasis is being placed on women and black and ethnic minority candidates, far too little attention is being paid to the white working class.

In the banking industry the white working class are their own ethnic minority. I grew up in a household in northern England. My father drove taxis and my mother worked as a school cook. As a child I had no idea that investment banks existed; as a teenager I was even told by a teacher I shouldn’t pursue further education beyond GCSEs. I ignored that advice and went to university before getting a job with a top U.S. investment bank. It hasn’t been easy: I had to fight to get there and throughout my banking career I have had to battle stereotypes.

Banking is not a meritocracy: it’s a perception-based environment. You succeed if you’re perceived to have the right credentials, and those credentials – even on the trading floor – can mean having the correct social background. Many of the people I work with were privately educated – they went to the right schools, and they made the right connections, and this has helped them throughout their careers. Their parents spent hundreds of thousands on their educations; mine couldn’t even afford the train fare for me to travel to London.

Maybe this makes me a higher achiever than the rest. I had to battle against my circumstances to get where I am today while they were advantaged. But none of my colleagues would welcome me pointing this out; there have even been occasions when colleagues have suggested that my parents somehow neglected me because they didn’t pay for my schooling.

There’s a big emphasis on diversity in banking now, but it’s sanitized. Since the horrific murder of George Floyd, every partner and managing director in a bank is anti-racist and it’s acceptable to speak about BAME. It’s not acceptable to speak out against class-based discrimination. – I can’t talk about the times I was taunted as a child.

It’s not just me. I see other people with my kind of background struggling too. I know one guy who ranked in the top 1% for the CFA exam results globally, but he could get no traction with job applications because he hadn’t been to the right schools. When people like me get banking jobs we  hide our accents and try not to mention our pasts – we want to fit in with the rest. Standing out in banking can be a bad thing – there’s a lot more mediocrity in this industry than people would have you believe, and mediocre colleagues can feel easily threatened by ‘troublemakers.’  

As banks embrace diversity, socioeconomic diversity needs to be on the agenda. It’s never easy to recognize your privilege, but it needs to be done, especially now that the pandemic threatens to make the gap wider than ever before. – A child like me with no computer at home would have had little or no homeschooling over the past year.  

Tyler Woods is the pseudonym of a senior trader in London

Photo by Zach Rowlandson on Unsplash

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AUTHORTyler Woods Insider Comment
  • Eu
    Eugene
    16 May 2021

    Completely understand the sentiment, but saying the working class are an ‘ethnic minority’ degrades the additional challenges faced by actual ethnic minorities in the workplace. I am Asian and from a working class background - both of these have had an impact on my career from a perception point of view - both contributing to imposter syndrome in different ways. The working class may be a minority in certain professions, but this disadvantage can be fixed in a single generation (when they can afford to live in nicer areas and send their kids to the same schools they couldn’t afford). Ethnicity and gender are always visible - class can be much more easily faked or remedied.
    What white working class males need to realise is that of course they have problems versus the middle classes, but being female or BAME has a host of other problems that you will never experience - a great analogy is someone who is deaf in one ear has disadvantages versus someone who has full hearing, but they are better off than someone who is deaf in one ear and also in a wheelchair! The problem is that people only look up when comparing (which is why white upper middle class males seem to think the world is pretty fair - there’s very few people who have more advantages than they do).

  • De
    Delahunty
    12 May 2021

    Refreshing article and it’s taken a long time for someone to speak out on this subject.
    It’s been evident in the stats and is an ever increasing problem.
    When I started working in the City my toxic boss would ask repeatedly the value of my parent’s house.
    I’m a white female and this question was designed to set the boundary amongst front office staff.

  • Jm
    Jman
    11 May 2021

    The Merit of this article is there to see. Diversity of thought is necessary as is sharing prosperity to ensure a harmonious society. The author mentioned being told not to pursue further education, the standard of education for white working class boys is in decline further affecting their prospects. Many articles show white working class students falling behind their bilingual class mates. White working class in the UK make up a sizeable chunk of the electorate, they should not be forgotten or left behind.

    Whereas BAME citizens, like myself, are still a minority, though we have slightly different challenges. As a BAME person who went to private school, and works in banking, I am not in the the same tax bracket or corporate grade as my white public school peers.

    The whole D&I agenda is flawed in my opinion, focusing on gender, sexuality and race, taking a nuanced view of society where broader more effectual segmentation would support the furthering of opportunity. A sceptic would highlight that focusing on such small subsets of society enables the status quo to continue without ruffling too many feathers, and so far much the same when looking at those who run FTSE 100 companies.

    The uncompetitive nature of UK listing culture further cements the wealth divide with the difficulty of raising capital meaning the options for startups are debt fueled unless you have the connections from attending the right institutions. However I do hope the D&I agendas merit will show up in future, it may be too early in it's timeline to assess its merits but as e author says we are missing a large section of society.

  • va
    vamike999
    11 May 2021

    Reading the comments show how raciest this world is to white people. "Your white so you cant be poor"

    So out of touch and it's dangerous

  • Ji
    Jim T. Least
    11 May 2021

    The working class is not an ethnic group and when you become a banker you cease to be working class. Making private finance more diverse along any measure is not a progressive end, it's tokenism, the progressive end is dismantling it altogether.

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