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Beyond Backgrounds: Unveiling the Role of Social Mobility in HR's Recruitment Vision for 2024

In the dynamic landscape of HR recruitment, 2024 stands as a pivotal year for people teams to embrace social mobility as a cornerstone of their talent acquisition strategies. 

HR's role is evolving to unearth talent from diverse socio-economic spheres, setting the stage for a more inclusive and innovative workforce. But in truth, every organisation should consider socioeconomic diversity alongside gender, race, ethnicity, and other diversity dimensions. 

Aiding social mobility is all about creating pathways for those from disadvantaged backgrounds so they can fulfil their potential. It is estimated that people in the UK from lower socio-economic backgrounds earn on average between 6-11% less than those from higher backgrounds. If we want a fairer society where everyone has equal opportunities to succeed, then everyone must have access to some form of higher education or training. 

Diversity in the workplace is good for everyone, it helps ensure that you have access to fresh perspectives, which can lead directly to better outcomes for your business as well as its customers.  Research shows that diverse teams are more creative, productive and innovative than homogeneous ones. They're better at problem-solving and identifying risks - and their ideas tend to be more original too.

With the socio-economic diversity task force setting a target that 50% of senior leaders in the UK financial and professional services sector must come from a non-professional background by 2030, we think it’s time you start to look at your contribution to this.  

Here are 4 things you can do: 

  1. Understand social mobility and how it relates to you. 

If HR teams want to improve social mobility in their companies, they need to understand what it is and why it can be difficult for some people to achieve career progression.

Then agree on what your definition is and begin to set targets around them using data to monitor your progress.

  1. Get the data

Data is a powerful tool in helping you understand your organisation. Everyone has a socio-economic background, meaning that you can measure it and define it.

You need to gain an insight into current and new employees' backgrounds.  This includes parental occupation; the type of school they attended; and free school meal eligibility (crucially the eligibility for it, not whether or not the scheme was used).

Armed with this you can effectively target, implement and track social mobility change in your organisation, and measure the success of your policies. You can also evaluate your efforts against national benchmarks, and those for your industry. The Social Mobility Employer Index is a great place to start this process.

For example, the national benchmark of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in the UK workforce is 39%, if you fall below this consider: 

  •  An annual review of your selection processes’ impacts on disadvantaged applicants, and redesign as needed

  • Brief recruitment agencies (like us) on your organisation’s commitment to advancing socio-economic diversity among hires, mentioning your desire for potential over polish

  • Remove unnecessary qualifications from criteria, which can create barriers for applicants

As the Social Mobility Commission’s Employer Toolkit stresses: “Socio-economic inclusion is not just about who gets in, it’s also about who gets on.” Be sure to examine your requirements for career progression, as well as recruitment. Discrimination in the social mobility space isn’t confined to early careers.  

Employee data can help identify if there are levels within your organisation that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds do not reach. Regular performance reviews and discussions about career progression, as well as opportunities for further training, can also help with this.

  1. Education is everything

People from lower socio-economic backgrounds often lack the opportunities and funding for education that others may have access to. Apprenticeships, accessible training opportunities and upskilling within work can help close this gap. 

Avoid the bias though! You might, for example, consider your internship programme to be inclusive, but if it’s unpaid and in a major metropolitan centre, like London, you are most likely excluding applicants from a low socio-economic background. According to Sutton Trust, a leading organisation in the social mobility space, 70% of internships are unpaid, thereby “locking out young people who cannot afford to work for free.”

HR Magazine has some great articles to help you out with this: 

  1. Look for potential not polish 

Improving social mobility involves opening up your company to the best people, regardless of their background. Grant Thornton, for example, removed the academic entry requirements for its entry-level schemes – thereby removing a hiring practice that might discriminate against disadvantaged applicants who might not have had the opportunity to attend university. 

Widening your talent pool can be achieved in many ways, including engaging with schools and further education colleges (particularly in areas of historic socio-economic disadvantage), and encouraging employees to support your social mobility outreach. This will also help counter any lack of knowledge.

Be the trailblazer

HR are the changemakers for social mobility.  Embracing social mobility isn't just an ethical imperative; it's a strategic advantage. It allows businesses to tap into a wealth of talent, fostering creativity, innovation, and resilience. Taking action doesn’t have to involve a massive budget and a grand plan from the outset – improvement begins with a few small steps, and you can take it from there. 

Need some help? We’re just a call or an email away.


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