Young people who commit clothing faux pas – including pairing brown shoes with a business suit – and do not “fit in with the culture” are missing out on lucrative investment banking jobs, according to a damning government report into the accessibility of the industry.
The study, by the UK government’s Social Mobility Commission, finds that most investments banks still predominantly favour middle and higher-income candidates who have graduated from just six or seven top universities.
The researchers claimed that managers often select candidates who fit the traditional image of an investment banker and display polish, while some still place as much importance on “comportment” – including speech, accent, dress and behaviour – as on skills and qualifications.
It also found that while some investment banks are making inroads into attracting more diverse applicants, such programmes are “small scale”.
Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, said: “Bright working-class kids are being systematically locked out of top jobs in investment banking because they may not attend a small handful of elite universities or understand arcane culture rules.
“It is shocking, for example, that some investment bank managers still judge candidates on whether they wear brown shoes with a suit, rather than on skills and potential.”
The study pinpointed seven ‘target’ universities, all in the south of England, as the preferred institutions for prospective investment bankers.
The researchers, from Royal Holloway University of London and the University of Birmingham, also find that young people who aspire to senior roles in investment banking are also required to secure work experience – which favours those with informal networks.
One interviewee quoted in the report said he had been told why he had not got the job by a prospective employer. He said: “He said [I] interviewed really well. He said [I’m] clearly quite sharp, but [I’m] not quite the fit for [this bank], [I’m] not polished enough.
“What kind of industry is this where I can be told I’m a good candidate, sharp, but not polished enough?”
The study also looked at access to careers in the life sciences sector, which it said was particularly strong in Scotland.
It found that while employers in life sciences appoint new graduates from across the higher education sector,there can be a tendency towards giving preference to graduates from prestigious institutions.