By Elise Campbell-Bates

Being connected has for too long been a major route to employment and career progression. This route relies heavily on a gross abuse of privilege, and the result is harmful for both businesses and societies. Though I’ll discuss this in the context of recruitment here, it is worth noting that forms of favouritism can also be found prevalent in work allocation, reward, promotions and procurement decisions.

Nepotism is the practice among those with power or influence of favouring family members, especially by giving them jobs.

Cronyism is the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications.
Beyond being simply unfair, the negative consequences of recruiting in this way are manifold.  Decision-making underpinned by perceived favouritism and double standards leaves employees feeling undervalued, demotivated, and unproductive. In turn, this can result in poor performance and increases to both absenteeism and staff deciding to leave. Existing inequalities and lack of diversity are also maintained as job opportunities are kept from those on the outside of the well-connected ‘in-groups’, including women, disabled people, and religious and ethnic minorities.

As part of our dedication to be the most inclusive consultancy in our industry, Cundall has committed to being a business in which diversity is a fundamental, valued, and embedded component of our culture and our identity. It is with this in mind that our recruitment and selection policy takes aim at nepotism and cronyism, ensuring that this kind of hiring (while still relatively commonplace in our industry) is a thing of the past at Cundall. Though nepotistic and cronyistic hiring is not limited to ‘early careers’ recruitment, in this article, I’ll focus on how such practices are particularly harmful to young people starting out in their career, and why we have committed to positive change.


The global pandemic has added to the many challenges faced by students and graduates seeking to join the job-market with an attractive organisation in their chosen field. However, in addition to competing with many applicants for the best jobs and placement opportunities, each year highly qualified, hardworking young people come up against the insurmountable competitor. This is the well-connected candidate whose parent/s (or wider family members) use their status and connections to open exclusive doors to the best opportunities. This, in turn makes it harder for less connected (but potentially more qualified and capable) students and graduates to secure opportunities. Whether considering early careers or experienced professionals, this industry tradition of favouring the well-connected not only perpetuates the longstanding problem of a lack of diversity within our industry, but it also keeps us from recruiting the best people.

I don’t think anyone is going to fall off their chair at hearing that we have indulged in our own share of nepotistic hiring in the past. It would be dishonest to claim ourselves as having been invulnerable to some of the less enlightened cultures and traditions of our industry. Given much of our work around diversity and inclusion of late, hopefully our taking a proactive and unequivocal approach to this particular tradition also comes as no surprise.

However, reaching this point has not been plain sailing. As with any cultural change, difficult conversations have been necessary, and I’ve had a number of these myself with the leaders around the business as recently as the last few months. None of these conversations have been comfortable (for me or the person on the other end of them), but, together, we’ve had some constructive discussions, and I am hopeful that there has been some organisational learning as a result. For instance:

  1. a role that was originally offered to a senior leader’s family member, was eventually advertised externally, and a transparent recruitment process followed
  2. a proposal to offer a year-in-industry placement to the child of a client without a proper interview on the strength of their attendance at an exclusive school and a “desirable” university, was reconsidered and the role was opened up for anyone to apply

Unfortunately, in the past, we haven’t had such a clear policy on these issues. That has meant that we haven’t always been able to catch such instances before they are a done deal, including people who have been appointed to roles as a direct result of their industry connections. Whilst these are often “only” for work placement opportunities, there is no doubt that this creates a cycle, whereby the candidate’s CV is strengthened as a result of the placement, thus improving their chances of securing a permanent role further down the line, to the detriment of other suitably-qualified candidates who don’t have the same connections.

The Glass Floor

Research conducted for the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission by Abigail McKnight (Director of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics) exposed the reality of a ‘glass floor’ in British society that protects less able, better-off children from falling down the social ladder as they become adults.

A report by graduate careers site, Milkround, last year also found that current students and graduates “…perceive a discrepancy between who employers say they are looking to recruit, and how they filter applications. Interestingly, 81% of today’s students and graduates think nepotism is still a major factor when it comes to who is offered a job”.

There is no denying that connections are important. Building our networks and relationships is key to what we do as a consultancy, and staff referrals can be one of many hugely beneficial tools to our finding the best talent. But we must use all of the tools at our disposal and do so in a fair and transparent manner that reflects our commitments to inclusivity and integrity.

Our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy, Valuing Diversity, states that we will not offer internships, placements, or jobs to direct family members, clients or industry contacts without a fair and open recruitment process, and our new recruitment policy will help us keep our word – and ensure that, at Cundall, fortune no longer favours the connected.

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Elise Campbell-Bates, Recruitment, Uncategorized, Working at Cundall


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