Breaking Into the Elite (BBC Documentery)

I just finished watching the BBC Documentary "Breaking Into the Elite" and it really shocked me how much class plays an impact on the recruitment for jobs like IB, CO, but most of all PE! 70% of PE staff in the UK at privately educated when only 7% of the population is!

I understand as mentioned in the documentary that if you speak in a certain way then you are more likely to be viewed as "polished", and therefore have a higher chance of breaking into the industry.

Just thought it was an interesting thing to watch and I believe it brings to light that most forms of diversity are largely superficial (gender, race, religion, sexuality) - things that don't determine intelligence but could mandate experiences?

Wondering if anyone else had any thoughts on the subject?

Comments (29)

Aug 8, 2019

dude - unfortunately, class plays a huge role in i banking and PE wherever you go. that tends to happen because it's human nature to identify with, and favour people who have similar backgrounds / interests as yourself. So a hiring manager is likely to hire someone from the same undergrad / high school / community etc as themselves and- this leads to a lag effect. Policies to encourage diversity have certainly changed things at the junior level, but it'll take time for those guys to move up to the senior level. hopefully one day it'll be meritocratic...it isn't entirely today, but it's better than it used to be.

Aug 9, 2019

yeah it was a tough documentary but it also made me think about this

Aug 9, 2019

Definitely interesting and truthful in many ways.

However, I was a bit let down when I watched this snippet from this BBC documentary. They show a guy who wants to break into S&T and struggles with his interviews, while doing professional interview training.

We all know the kind of behavioural and motivation questions we should expect and work hard, prepare, tweak and repeat again and again such standard questions until we can "sell" it. Even that guy.. I believe that if he had crafted some standard lines to such Qs he would have had a higher chance of sounding "polished". (using "we" in a generic way)

Maybe some ppl with "class" are naturally more eloquent, but we can all make an effort to breach this gap. During my BSc I was horrible at public speaking, and still am not the best. But I recognised that and I joined a debating society to counter it. A lot of this was with a "fake till you make it" attitude.

The discussion of whether changing "who you are" to break in, is unfair or questionable, can get deep. But we're all better off being preoccupied with the "till you make it" part imo.

A Dutchman in London

Aug 12, 2019

I fully agree regarding the preparation aspect, but the pressure faced by kids like this is tremendous compared to their privately educated peers. It is life changing for someone like him and seeing how much debt he is now in I empathize. Whereas private school kids don't have that stress, they have mum and dads money to fall back on or can sit back and do another PS35,000 masters degree or go and do free work experience that working class kids cannot take.

Even once you break in and manage to secure a BB internship, you are constantly judged by how you speak and constantly second guessing how you sound because you're worried how you are judged.

Culture clash does not help either as many seniors in the U.K., particularly in IBD, are European and they have no time or compassion for British kids. All they want are other European kids with stiff senses of humor who have done their 3 year bachelor and a 3 year masters degree with 4 internships. Considering how HR bangs on about diversity, what they really mean is we will promote a European women and leave it at that. Proverbial 'box' ticked.

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Aug 12, 2019

Yeah I definitely empathise.
I come from an extremely underprivileged background myself and if it wasn't for the Internetz I'd have never discovered the space or broken into ib (thank you WSO, M&I and rest ib content creators..!).
My mother still tells me 'why don't you become a bank teller" like the x person that she looks up to in our village. Sometimes one may feel intimidated in the office as it can be harder to find common interests or talking points and the way you express yourself really has an impact.

I haven't watched the whole doc yet, but it seems to really have a "yaw that's unfair, dawg" attitude. They could have done a much better job if they helped viewers understand what they need to do to succeed and presented a more balanced collection of success stories.

I found your comment about Europeans kinda odd. Can you elaborate on the stiff humour thing?

3 years Master degrees aren't a thing anywhere. I think only in France it's quite common to take a gap year between bsc and msc in order to do one or two extensive internships.

I believe that unless you've studied at some top eu unis and combined that with solid internships, your chances of breaking in London ib are slim even as an European.

A Dutchman in London

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Aug 10, 2019

This is at least 90% to do with simple grades achieved really. The average A level grade for state schools is a high C, whereas at private schools the average is a low A. This even accounts for selective grammar schools in the state school case, meaning you are comparing two similar populations of student.

This difference of a whole grade and a half is massive and actually life changing when you are considering universities entry requirements. Therefore, students who attend private schools are far more likely to attend oxbridge, as well as the other targets and get ideal IB experience to be able to break into PE.

Obviously being "polished" and making connections play a part, but if you have the odds stacked against you to such an extent before even attending university, you're going to see disparity like this.

Aug 12, 2019

I agree this is a major factor but the doc highlighted a worrisome statistic, working class/BAME students who graduate with a First earn 16% less than white/upper class candidates who graduated with a 2.2.

In banking we know how easy it is to be referred by HR by a connection and from there, social capital takes over in terms of securing a job or internship offer.

Aug 12, 2019
InvestingScientist:

I agree this is a major factor but the doc highlighted a worrisome statistic, working class/BAME students who graduate with a First earn 16% less than white/upper class candidates who graduated with a 2.2.

In banking we know how easy it is to be referred by HR by a connection and from there, social capital takes over in terms of securing a job or internship offer.

Did it take into consideration the uni and degree? I'd rather have an upper class 2.2 kid from oxford ppe/ Cambridge economics than a BAME 1st in marketing from Westminster / Bournemouth

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Aug 13, 2019

Thought the documentary was certainly an eye opener and I do agree that more needs to be done to break the so-called "Old Boys Club" of investment banking in the UK, however I did have some issues with some of the documentary's themes...

First and foremost, the overwhelming focus of the documentary was on working class BAME candidates. While they're certainly a group worthy of attention in terms of helping them gain fair entry into the financial sector (as, after all, the vast majority of BAME students do not come from a privately educated background while - as many other commenters on this thread have reiterated - 77% of PE professionals allegedly have done, and so on so forth), I couldn't help but feel as though this prevalence was influenced heavily by the agenda of the documentarian, Amol Rajan. Indeed, it may well have been intentional and that's simply his more "activist" style of film making. That said, it's been a long-standing issue in UK for at least the past decade (likely far longer) that white, working-class men are the least likely of anyone to gain entry into university (and so subsequently gain work in high finance). Just 33% of this demographic go on to enrol in higher education vs 37% of black Caribbean students, 57% of black African students, and 67% of Indian students. I found it a little irksome that Amol, considering the overwhelming thrust of his documentary was on "class" (instead of race), conveniently chose to focus on the arguably "sexier" narrative of working class BAME students in comparison to white toffs, than concerning himself with the professional aspirations of working class Britain as a whole.

Secondly - and while I certainly agree that anyone who is from an economically disadvantaged background would struggle to get into a top-tier university - none of the applicants featured were from what I would term "elite" UK universities (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Imperial). I can't remember their exact alma matres, but if memory serves it was Nottingham and the like. I consider Nottingham a good school and have a number of colleagues and friends (both working class and toffs) who studied at Notts and subsequently broke into the industry. That said, nowhere near as many as did from the aforementioned universities. I don't know whether this was a purposeful tact from Amol (or whether, in fact, he had a huge number of students feature and then focused on the more compelling stories / those that best aligned with his narrative - sounds more likely, at least) but I'm not surprised that these graduates had a harder time getting into the industry compared to what I expect would be the case at certain other institutions.

In sum, I would definitely give "How to Break Into the Elite" a watch - it is, overall, a relatively well made documentary that shines a light on some very worthwhile causes and prominent concerns in modern British society. I just wish the documentarian had been a little less heavy handed in his work - a fact that, I feel, sadly undid / diminished a lot of the good that was otherwise pertinently highlighted.

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Aug 13, 2019

You absolute bigot. It's 2019. Why would anyone give the tiniest bit of thought or concern about white working class English men? Don't you know that society will be a utopia once it's only BAME/female?

/s (although I completely agree that the actual issue / plight of the future of white working class English lads is 100% of no concern for our political, academic and media elite)

Aug 13, 2019

Didn't realise Caroline Lucas had a WSO account!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-49321430

Aug 14, 2019

Agreed it is an issue but I cannot blame the host. He is interviewing (and likely taking an interest) in those he best identifies with and that is young BAME students, as he faced the same challenges as they do.

While I agree Nottingham is not 'elite', he did attend Imperial for Masters and still had nothing. Given, that may in part be due to his interview performance which was bad. However, an ER role should be within reach of Nottingham kids.

My final point is that we do not know how thoroughly these kids prepared for their interviews. I personally have seen people complain and yet not do the required leg work for interview prep

Aug 14, 2019

ok so im starting to watch the documentary (maybe first 10mins) and it seems all these BAME's didn't even have internships / return offers? all of them seem to be "oh im about to get my final year results, yes! i can now apply for jobs"....well guess what its hard for everyone to get a good graduate job without any internship experience. i went to private school and top uni but did 0 work...started off in retail initially, then got a expenses only VC BizDev internship then worked my way into big4, then big corporate then consultancy now finally. none of it through any type of networking / connections. despite top grades at all stages in life i too got constant rejections initially.

im sure if these kids did multiple internships (or atleast gave indication that they applied) then id take this documentary more serious. will finish it later on and comment again if have new different opinions.

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Aug 15, 2019

Internships are only slightly less competitive and does not get away from the fact that employers hire upper class kids. End of the day you're still being interviewed by Matthew from Eton or Phillipe from Bocconi and working class kids, with their basic EC's, cannot boast of similar activities such as skiing and holidays in the Caribbean as Matthew and Phillipe. These things make them hard to identify with and well qualified candidates slip through due to recruiter bias.

Later in the show, the recruiter mentions she will not send a girl for an interview with certain places even though she is qualified because they will not like her accent.

Aug 14, 2019

Always funny how everything in Europe ultimately boils down to culture. Fun story from my continental European country where you can often only get interviews at certain prestigious firms if you belong to XYZ family. Those family names often start with 'de' (d is not capitalized) which is a synonym for being of noble origins ;)

Aug 14, 2019

Can you officially add de- to your surname in those countries? Eg using first names as an example to change your passport name from John to Sir John etc type thing?

Aug 14, 2019

I'm not sure but I don't see why not. However, these families are all connected and all know eachother. So it wouldn't help or something haha

Aug 14, 2019

You gotta be a fan of conspiracy theories - never heard of such a thing even for Laz/Rotschild.

Aug 15, 2019
Marlborough:

Always funny how everything in Europe ultimately boils down to culture. Fun story from my continental European country where you can often only get interviews at certain prestigious firms if you belong to XYZ family. Those family names often start with 'de' (d is not capitalized) which is a synonym for being of noble origins ;)

If you're talking about the NL, then you couldn't be more wrong.

Aug 14, 2019
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Aug 15, 2019
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