Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Memo to the boss: Follow the BBC’s lead and measure class diversity, too

The BBC is doing something I think is awesome but many of my American friends think is awful: gathering information of the social class background of their recruits. The move is part of an aggressive strategy to promote more diversity both on the airwaves and behind the scenes at the public service broadcaster. The civil service has been moving in the same direction.

Some questions arise:

1. Can you measure social class?

Race and gender are relatively straightforward characteristics, notwithstanding the recent nonsense over restrooms for transgender people. Defining social class is a much more complex business. Many variables could be included, including occupational status, income or wealth, as well as education or cultural capital.

But the goal here is simply to find a measure that is good enough for the purposes at hand. The BBC asks whether either of your parents has a college degree. This is not a bad approach. Education is an important dimension of social class in itself, and strongly related to others. The BBC is also going to ask whether at any point in childhood the person in question was eligible for free school meals. (The questions are voluntary.)

Such proxy measures are narrow measures of class. But they are better than the current ones, since there are none.

Read the full Brookings article here.

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