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POSITIVE NEWS - ‘We’re making Britain fairer’: the man filling the City with working-class stars

Posted 22nd July 2022 • Written by •

A radical recruitment firm is transforming the intake of Britain’s most prestigious employers, using an algorithm that weeds out privileged but mediocre people and identifies talent from disadvantaged backgrounds

The Bank of England. Freshfields. Linklaters. Slaughter and May. Allen & Overy. Clifford Chance. Deloitte. Morgan Stanley. I could go on: a list of more than 150 elite employers across law, finance and management consulting that make up Britain’s most prestigious and well-paying employers.

And they have one other thing in common: they have quietly started using a radical new recruitment algorithm that shoves aside posh-but-mediocre candidates for the stars of the working class.

‘Contextual admissions’ has been on the go in British universities since the turn of the century. They don’t like to talk about it, but Oxbridge and other redbrick institutions lower the A-level grades required of teenagers from the worst schools, acknowledging research that shows that an A from Eton is easy-peasy to achieve compared with one from the shoddiest comp.

But companies? Companies using a tech solution to right the wrongs of society, to see past the coddling or hardships in a job applicant’s life, as a kind of meritocratic sorting hat? And not just as a fringe experiment in class war, but right at the heart of the decision process for the City’s most blue-chip, traditional and high-stakes training contracts, making masters of the universe out of the losers in life’s lottery. And at the same touch of a computer button, striking terror into the heart of the middle-class parents of complacently and lavishly educated kids, the death knell for characters like Harry Enfield’s Tim Nice-But-Dim. That’s new. And it is all the work of one intriguing man, Raphael Mokades.

We spend an hour talking about how his algorithm – known as the Contextual Recruitment System and provided by his company, Rare – is the new rocket fuel for social mobility, processing to date nearly two million graduate applications. Then I ask Mokades what he is doing at a deeper level. “We are making British society fair and more equal,” he replies. “I think that’s really clear.”

Mokades confuses people. He was born near Kensal Rise in north-west London, and is taken variously to be black, Muslim, Indian or Arabic. He went, on scholarship, to a private secondary school. In Kensal Rise he was considered the only white boy on the basketball team. When he arrived at Oxford University and joined the basketball team he was treated like the only black boy. 

Actually, Mokades is Jewish; his father is Israeli, his father’s parents Iranian and Uzbekistani, and his mother’s family fled Nazi Germany. In an era of identity politics, this enables him to speak directly. “I don’t get people saying: ‘You can’t talk about this.’ Because people don’t know who I am. I’ve been able to swerve.”

After leaving Oxford he wanted to do some good. He was inspired by his father, who founded a basketball centre in Kensal Rise. It followed the model of boxing in the East End, helping young men to get qualified as players and coaches. “Kensal Rise in the 1980s was a high-unemployment, high-deprivation area. He had tremendous impact.”

While working as the head of diversity for Pearson, Mokades became deeply affected by research that showed that, as he summarises, “elite professions are more or less closed to people from particular backgrounds”.

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