Unleashing Aspirations, the final report from the governmental Panel on Fair Access to the Professions has been released. The report looks at social mobility in the UK and specifically entry into society’s top jobs and professions, such as lawyers, civil servants, doctors, bankers, journalists and university vice chancellors.
Not surprisingly, the report shows that most professions have become increasingly exclusive, with increasing proportions of members coming from families with above average incomes. It criticises the professions for recruitment practices that directly and indirectly discriminate against students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Plus ça change…!
In 1968 Ken Roberts proposed his Theory of Occupational Allocation (or Opportunity Structure theory as it became known). After researching into the jobs of school leavers he proposed that individual choice had less of an impact on career destination than the social proximity of the options available based on gender, ethnicity and social class.
More recent theoretical concepts along similar lines have included habitus and social capital.
The concept of habitus describes the way in which social structures determine individual’s cognitive structures, perceptions, values, tastes and beliefs. See the article by Vilhjálmsdóttir and Arnkelsson ‘The interplay between habitus, social variables and occupational preferences’ in the International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance (Volume 3, Number 2, 2003)
Social capital theory looks at the value of your social network in your career success and specifically focuses on the impact of access to information, access to resources and access to sponsorship. See the article by Seibert et al. A social capital theory of career success in the Academy of Management Journal (Volume 44, Number 2, 2001 – or try here for an alternative version).
Whichever way you look at the issue, whether in terms of opportunity structures, social impact on individual perceptions or availability of social capital, the impact of social status on career options is deep seated and complex. The other thing you get from taking a long view is that very few of the well-meaning interventions since 1968 have made a significant difference to the issue.
Apologies to anyone expecting me to talk about Swedish vampires.
- How much can you influence the perceptions, beliefs and values of a social group rather than just an individual?
- Should we be putting even more effort into arranging mentoring schemes?
- What social capital do we have as careers practitioners which enables us to make an impact on students?