Social Mobility: The Challenges & Opportunities For Individuals & Organisations

Following our Roundtable on Social Mobility, I thought it would be useful to pull together a few notes and ideas as an introduction to some of the challenges which face organisations attempting to understand and address issues relating to social mobility.

(Written by David Allison, Co-Founder and CEO of TheTalentPeople)

Following our Roundtable on Social Mobility, I thought it would be useful to pull together a few notes and ideas as an introduction to some of the challenges which face organisations attempting to understand and address issues relating to social mobility.

What Is It?
Broadly speaking, Social Mobility is about where individuals start in life, and where they end up as adults. As a broad principle, this appears a simple concept. One of the initial challenges, however, is turning this into a more precise definition. For those outside HR Management, particularly senior leaders, if we can’t help the wider organisation have a fluent debate (in the same way they would about finance or operations), then it is unlikely we will be able to embed Social Mobility as a cohesive corporate strategy. There are two principal ways of considering Social Mobility. Intragenerational and inter-generational. “Intra-generational” is the progress (or lack of it) made from one generation to another, whilst “Inter-generational” is the progress that individuals make given their own starting point in life.

Different measures can then be used to assess these approaches. Intragenerational measures might include the occupation of someone’s parents, or whether their parents went to University or not. Inter-generational might include Free School Meals (FSM), IMD (Indices of Multiple Deprivation), POLAR4 (Participation of Local Areas), whether they have been NEET, and so on. There is likely to be a degree of correlation between these approaches. Without an agreement in any organisation about what is meant by Social Mobility and the measures which will be used to evaluate current performance and improvements made.

Why Bother?
Having agreed on what it is, the most obvious next step is to make the ‘business case’. There are obvious arguments to be made for any organisation employing a workforce that is representative of society, and this is consistent with any other under-represented group. Specifically, though, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds have equal potential but are likely to face a number of challenges as they join the workforce.

Educational Attainment.
Firstly, research from The Sutton Trust shows that those from a lower SES background are likely to achieve up to 2 levels less by the end of their time at school. Artificially high grades which are used to screen a high volume of candidates at the initial stage of applications are likely to have a significant adverse impact on those from low SES backgrounds.

Digital Poverty & resilience.
Much has been written about Digital Poverty, and with digital-only application and screening processes, care needs to be taken. Our own observations at TheTalentPeople / GetMyFirstJob go beyond access. In one recent campaign, we identified that those from lower SES backgrounds were more likely to drop out of an application if they hit a problem. For those of us who are digital natives, we know that computers crash or online meetings fail. We know that when that happens, we simply go back and start again. We identified that those from lower SES groups were far more likely not to have the resilience to start again, so additional support was needed to address this.

Let’s not duck the issue. Those from lower SES backgrounds are likely to have less money. And access to less support too. This has a major effect on a range of issues. Not only access to digital infrastructure, but the ability to travel to an assessment center, buy clothes for the assessment centre, or even start work. It’s not just the amount of money, but the timing of cash. Offering to reimburse someone’s travel expenses when they can’t afford a ticket in the first place does not help. Paying individuals at the end of their first month of employment when they need to rent a flat, pay a deposit, buy clothes, and pay for transport is a major issue too.

CVs have been around for many many years (Leonardo DaVinci is often credited with the first one dating back to 1482) but are highly questionable in today’s environment. Firstly, if you want to assess an individual’s, parents’, or career advisers’ ability, then a CV is a perfect tool. This works directly against those from lower SES backgrounds who are less likely to have the support net.

Our data shows that those from lower SES are also less likely to have a CV in the first place. And then there’s the content. Those from higher SES groups are far more likely to have had access to extra-curricular activities which they can include on their CVs. Considering that the purpose of the hiring process is to identify the potential of candidates (to demonstrate skills they do not have yet) and fit within the organisation, the CV is spectacularly inappropriate.

Programme Design.
So, overcoming the challenges associated with a low socio-economic status is complex. To organisations with the widest and deepest pool of talent for the future means that it is also an area that must be addressed. It’s worth pointing out that Social Mobility must also not be focused on in isolation at this stage. A genuinely ‘inclusive’ approach will also consider other under-represented groups and the points below are equally valid:

Objective & Organisational Buy-In.
Addressing inclusivity will not happen overnight, and will encounter many bumps along the way. Ensuring that senior leaders understand the need, and are prepared to support appropriate initiatives is vital to longer-term success.

Current State Analysis.
A good starting point is to understand current performance. Not only amongst the latest cohort of recruits, but amongst the wider workforce. Data should inform the starting point for the journey, and an audit of existing practices will form the backbone of a Gap Analysis.

Programme Design.
Having established the starting point, setting out the 3-5-year vision across the entire applicant, candidate, and employee journey is worthwhile. This programme should consider at a minimum early outreach to the application process, role and suitability of technology, assessment methods, pre-work support, and initial time on the job.

It is likely that the overall programme will be too much to take on in one go, so using the gap analysis to identify those ‘easy wins’ to create momentum in the early stages of implementation is important.

Support Networks.
This is a journey, and not always an easy one. For the individuals leading the programme, create a network of those within and outside the organisation who can help you share best practices and overcome the barriers you will encounter.

The use of data points throughout the process allows ongoing assessment and improvements. This data allows performance to be evaluated, but progress to be identified, shared, and celebrated – vital to organisational adoption. These are just a few ideas to help those considering the challenges and opportunities associated with Social Mobility. It is an area which many individuals and organisations are committed to, and increasingly there are groups of practitioners who are keen to support and share experiences. There is no doubt that as a group, we can achieve far more than by going it alone.

At TheTalentPeople, we specialise in end-to-end recruitment solutions that champion social mobility. If you want to learn more about our approach, get in touch:

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