Sophie Pender: The City lawyer smashing the old boys’ network

Sophie Pender: The City lawyer smashing the old boys’ network

Pender, 27, has endless examples of overt classism in her career to date.

While at law school, one of her peers spotted that she was wearing fake eyelashes and asked “what the f***” they were.

“I said it’s very normal where I’m from to get these. This person said ‘well, maybe it’s normal in some social circles, but not the type who go to top law firms’.”

Pender felt so out of place at university and law school that she adjusted her accent to make herself sound posher, an “alienating” experience because she still didn’t feel posh enough.

“My whole life has been moulded by this issue that people won’t talk about,” she says, referring to class.

Even her name is influenced by a lack of money. Her parents had named her Sophia but by the time they noticed the mistake on her birth certificate they couldn’t afford the bus fare to go back and get the misspelling corrected.

Elitism has carried on into her working life – somewhere she thought her background would no longer matter – and it has redoubled her drive to beat classism in the City.  

Until recently, social mobility wasn’t really part of the City’s diversity conversation. Lady Cherie Blair, KC, argued earlier this year that the legal sector has hardly diversified at all and only replaced “posh boys with posh girls”.

A study found in 2020 that more than half of partners at the ten biggest City law firms went to private school, compared to just 7pc of the population.

Breaking into these elite circles is becoming harder. Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), wrote in September that “choosing your parents is becoming ever more important” after his think-tank found a growing correlation between parents’ and childrens’ earnings. 

The Social Mobility Commission found in 2020 that teenagers growing up poor in the 1980s were four times more likely to be poor as adults, whilst in the 1970s they were only twice as likely.

Boardrooms are finally waking up to the issue of class and starting to pay attention to Pender’s “reverse Bullingdon” society. 

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