The majority of working-class staff at anti-poverty charities avoid discussing their backgrounds at work because of misconceptions about class, research has found.
The research report Missing Expertspublished today by youth-leadership charity Reclaim, says working-class employees are “sick of being overlooked, patronized or stereotyped” by colleagues in the sector who make assumptions about their backgrounds.
The researchers, after surveying 270 working-class people who had worked at anti-poverty charities or think tanks in the past three years, said: “Nearly every person from a working-class background we spoke to during the course of this research felt that their sector had a class diversity and inclusion problem.”
A group of anti-poverty charities, including Save the Children and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, have pledged to collect data on class diversity at their organizations in response to the research.
The report says about 60 per cent of working-class employees at anti-poverty charities had avoided discussing their backgrounds, although it also found that a younger, more ethnically-diverse generation of staff was more likely to discuss it.
The report says: “Many people haven’t talked openly about their own background, or had only done so when they’d become more senior or as a negative reaction to working-class people being discussed.
“Working-class younger people and people of color were slightly more likely to have spoken openly about it.
“While some people of color were emboldened by wider conversations about diversity and inclusion, others did so as they felt their class background would be assumed anyway.”
Nearly seven in 10 working-class staff are also “tired of the language used about working-class people which we wouldn’t use about ourselves”, the report says.
It added that employees were “annoyed that plain English terms like ‘hard-up’, ‘skint right now’ and ‘struggling to make ends meet’, which are widely used and understood, were swapped for terms that did not resonate as much with the public or ended up being subject to endless debate – such as whether ‘poverty’ exists in the UK”.
Respondents identified policy, campaigns, communications, fundraising, senior management and board roles as those with the least class diversity.
One person quoted in the report said: “I have worked in the charity sector for 10 years and have only been open about my working-class identity in the last year.”
Reclaim recommended that anti-poverty charities do more to collect data on the class of their staff and that funders should back sector-wide initiatives to explore the issue further.
It also called on boards and senior management to start “active succession planning” to ensure working-class staff are not frozen out of charity leadership roles in the future.
Becky Bainbridge, interim chief executive of Reclaim, said: “Making organisations a more welcoming place for working-class people isn’t always easy, but it is doable. We see that in the organisations Reclaim works with every day.
“The organisations best at hiring working-class people and helping them thrive will do a better job at influencing government.
“It is a major step forward that a group of leading think tanks and charities have committed to take action to make their organizations more representative of the UK.”
As well as surveying current and former charity staff, Reclaim held interviews and focus groups with 30 working-class employees at anti-poverty charities and hosted two roundtables with charity and think tank chief executives.