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Discrimination | Company ranked potential employees by social class and Twitter followers

Already beset by news that one co-founder was fired by another – with key staff quitting in support – a US media firm has found itself under the spotlight for ranking potential hires by class and the number of followers they have on Twitter.

The Markup, which had the stated aim of reporting on how companies are using new technology, a fascinating subject for HR in itself, was founded by individuals from the Wall Street Journal, Wikimedia and Craigslist. It had raised tens of millions of pounds in start-up support.

However, in recent days it has made news for all kinds of HR issues.

Firstly, it was discovered that one co-founder was relieved of her duties by the others. Seven staff then quit in protest at the decision with many in the industry supporting her on social media.Read more Twitter’s ‘single tweet’ hiring could show future of talent sourcing

The reason behind why co-founder, Julia Angwin was fired differ depending on who is talked to. In a private letter, Angwin alludes to a differing of opinion for the direction of the firm.

Yet, Sue Gardner, co-founder and Chief Executive, the person who sacked Angwin, told Columbia Journalism Review that Angwin would not submit to performance review, that she was not enthusiastic enough about attending meetings and wouldn’t take part in team-building exercises by submitting to a Myers-Briggs personality test.

After Angwin was fired, many of her acolytes described the Myers-Briggs in negative terns. With a “load of unscientific horses**t” and “the most important test of any investigative journalist is how vigorously they tell you to f**k off if you try to make them take a Myers-Briggs test” being key comments.

Gardner also felt that Angwin went to too many conferences and wasn’t hiring enough employees. There were also disputes over contract negotiations and accusations that Angwin only wanted to communicate with Gardner via email.

Yet, one of the most worrying facts from The Markup debacle is that potential employees were ranked on their social status, a guess at a candidates’ class, as well as their social media following.Read more ITV star questions Emmerdale for sacking her over old tweets

Then candidates were ranked on a spreadsheet. Some of Gardner’s comments were included on the sheet. She wrote “obviously I am guessing here” before ranking a candidate based on whether they were from a very poor family background or were working class, middle class, slightly upper middle or super rich super privileged.

There are also comments on social media presence, noting whether the candidate has more than 10,000 followers and whether the candidate is “practically a household name”.

The spreadsheet itself shows that none of the candidates considered were from a working class or deprived background – with middle class being the lowest ranking considered.

There were also considerations for whether the candidate was non-white or non-male.

Within the firm, there was a disagreement between Gardner and Angwin about another hiring metric: whether the applicant supported what the company stood for.

Angwin believed that Gardner wanted The Markup to have an anti-tech stance. Angwin wanted, in her own description, to be more objective. Yet one of the most prominent columns on the hiring spreadsheet regards whether candidates are anti-tech or not.

What does this mean for hiring?

With the dispute ongoing, the case shows how working-class individuals still struggle in the workplace.

In 2017, the Social Mobility Commission found that, in the UK, there was a class pay gap where professionals from working class backgrounds earn an average of £6,800 less than professionals from higher classes.

Whilst there has been a look into class discrimination by the Government, there is no specific protection for it in within the Equality Act 2010 and it is difficult to assess whether applicants are not being considered because of their class.


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Even firms that encourage social diversity at initial recruitment stages, such as PwC who removed Ucas scores from their entry criteria, might struggle to promote candidates once they’re in.

Speaking to the FT, Louise Ashley, a lecturer at the Royal Holloway college at University of London explained that many working class employees struggle to progress.

“There is very limited focus on the relationship between social background and career progression,” she said. “Many firms have a strong discourse of meritocracy, but as you attempt to climb the pyramid, you see it isn’t true.”