The Conservative MP Justine Greening. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian
Half of UK workers believe a regional accent and a working class background are barriers to success, according to a new study that revealed working class representation in leadership roles is as low as 17%.
The study was commissioned by the former education secretary Justine Greening, who said working class people still believed they encountered a “class ceiling” with too much emphasis placed on personal connections more likely to suit middle class candidates.
About half of the 2,000 people surveyed across industries and regions said those without strong regional accents found it easier to progress in their workplace.
One in four said having a regional accent had held them back at work; this figure rose to almost half in London.
Only a third of people said their boss was from a working class background. This dropped to just a fifth in the health and social work sector, but rose to 50% in manufacturing industries.
In Wales, just 17% of those surveyed said their workplace had a working class person in a top leadership role.
Greening, the first education secretary to have attended a comprehensive school, said the study revealed how social mobility had stagnated. Less than half of those surveyed said they were earning more in relative terms than their highest paid parent did at their age.
“When it comes to opportunity and how far you can go in Britain, far too much is still determined by what’s in the rear-view mirror,” the Putney MP said. “There is still a class ceiling and it’s clear from our grassroots research that people see it and experience it every day. I think this frustration with established orders and elites is exactly what we are seeing a rebellion against.”
Greening, who left the cabinet earlier this year after May attempted to move her to the Department for Work and Pensions, has regularly been talked of as a potential candidate for London mayor.
Since leaving the cabinet, she set up the Social Mobility Pledge to encourage employers to adopt open recruitment policies such as name-blind or “contextual” recruitment, as well as offering more apprenticeships. John Lewis, Marks and Spencer and Vodafone are among the businesses to have signed up to the pledge.
“They have committed to things like contextual recruitment and offering apprenticeships to people from disadvantaged backgrounds,” she said. “Levelling up Britain in this way means talent is what determines how far you go, not simply where you started.”