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Social mobility a ‘growing priority’ for firms

Laura Starrett tells HRNews about practical steps to help improve social mobility

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  • Transcript

    The Social Mobility Commission has heralded a new approach to measuring social mobility. It will use data differently in future and hopes to be clearer in future about how to remove obstacles holding people back.

    This is the main theme  of the Commission’s ‘State of the Nation 2022 report - A fresh approach to social mobility’ which has just been published. It includes the new Social Mobility Index  which, they explain, pulls together innovative metrics carefully selected with input from experts in economics, sociology, and education. Their aim is to provide clear definitions and measures of social mobility along with accurate data on progress and trends to be used by academics, researchers, policymakers and government.

    Personnel Today reports on how the new approach moves away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that focuses on ‘long’ upward mobility – moving a few from the ‘bottom’ into the ‘top’ – to a broader view of different kinds of social mobility, sometimes over shorter distances for a greater number of people. 

    Meanwhile Anne Sammon and Laura Starrett talk about the growing importance of social mobility considerations for employers in their recent article for Out-Law. In ‘The growing importance of social mobility considerations for employers’ Anne says how the spotlight on social mobility is only likely to continue, making it a good time for employers to start thinking about social mobility within their own organisations. She explains how this has been thrown into sharp focus over the past two years – a recent YouGov poll carried out for the UK’s Social Mobility Commission, over half of adults believe the coronavirus pandemic has increased social inequality and widened the gap between social classes. 

    So, what should employers be doing about it? It’s a question I put to Laura who joined me on the line from Manchester to discuss it:

    Laura Starrett: “I think there's a number of actions employers can take, which would have a direct impact. So, I think the first thing for employers to look at as around recruiting talent and thinking about creating diverse routes into the workplace if they're not already in existence. So that might involve, for example, using apprenticeships and having a form of progression structure in order to attract a more diverse range of candidates into the business, but also having that career development aspect attached to it. Then in relation to recruitment, I also think it's worth considering contextualised recruitment tools. So, for example, we use rare here at Pinsent Masons and what that allows employers to do is to take into account the wider context in which a candidate's academic achievements were attained. So, for example, if an individual graduated at the top of their year group from an underperforming school and they were also caring for a disabled parent and holding down a part time job, those factors are relevant in terms of contextualising the wider circumstances in which the grades were achieved and, ultimately, that helps employers to better understand the individual circumstances and I think you can then take a more informed view as to whether that individual progresses to the next stage of the of the recruitment process. Also, stepping away from recruitment, I think employers should also be looking at retention. The key aspects to this are around reviewing promotion and work allocation processes in order to ensure that these are as inclusive as possible because, otherwise, that diverse talent which you have recruited into the business could then potentially leave the business because there isn't a clear pathway for them to progress to the next stage in their career.”

    Joe Glavina: “You say in your Outlaw article that networking is another important element.”

    Laura Starrett: “Yes, absolutely, and I think those ultimately from a more privileged background are likely to have more of a ready-made network that they can tap into via their parents and we know from the data that individuals from a lower socio economic background take a longer period of time to grow their network. So it's really important to give some thought as to whether you need to have that as a requirement. So in other words, individuals having an established network early on in their career because you could obviously be narrowing your own recruitment pool should you do so.”

    Joe Glavina: “You say the key for employers is not to wait until they are forced into taking action by legislation but to be proactive on social mobility. Tell me about that.”

    Laura Starrett: “There have been calls to make socio-economic background, a protected characteristic, and that was probably most recently by the social mobility commission. But whilst at the moment, we don't have any firm legislation, there is obviously a lot of activity in this space, and particularly in the financial services sector, where it's been driven by the financial regulators. And they recently had a DNA discussion paper, where they effectively said that they will be expecting businesses in that sector to look beyond the protected characteristics under the Equality Act and to take into account other factors such as socio economic background, so it is being driven, and indirectly, if you like through the regulators, and even though there isn't that legislation in place at the moment.”

    Joe Glavina: “Central to this is the collection of data. What’s the key message to HR professionals listening to this, Laura”

    Laura Starrett: “I think the single most important point around data collection when it comes to social mobility is about your communication strategy to the wider workforce and really focusing on why you're collecting the data and how you're going to use the data but, ultimately, communicating that to your workforce. If you do that in an effective way, we've seen that that harnesses a much stronger response rate so that the data that you get back is actually a decent enough sample size for you to do something effective with it because we also know that the average response rate to diversity questionnaires is somewhere between 10% to 50% so if you don't have that effective communication strategy around social mobility data, you're not going to get back ideally what you want.”

    That article by Anne Sammon and Laura Starrett is an analysis piece called ‘The growing importance of social mobility considerations for employers’ and is available from the Outlaw website. The report by the Social Mobility Commission is called ‘State of the Nation 2022 report - A fresh approach to social mobility’ – we have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme.

    - Link to State of the Nation 2022 report by Social Mobility Commission
    - Link to Out-Law article: ‘The growing importance of social mobility considerations for employers’

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