Emily Hodgson: What can employers do to improve social mobility?

emily hodges

You are 24 times more likely to be a doctor if you have a parent who is a doctor, and 17 times more likely to become a lawyer with a parent who is a lawyer. In 2020, what your parents did, where you grew up and where you went to school are still dominant predictors of your life outcomes in the UK.

Many employers have recognised that social mobility needs to become part of their inclusion strategy. Having a diverse workforce in terms of socio-economic background is fast becoming as important to many organisations as gender or race diversity, and for similar reasons; this is not only the right thing to do, but a business performs better when it finds and retains talent from all backgrounds.

In 2017, The Social Mobility Foundation created the Social Mobility Employer Index, ranking organisations on their efforts to access and progress talent from all class backgrounds. Three years of running the index, with submissions from 18 different sectors, has given us valuable insight into what makes for a social mobility strategy that does more than tick the boxes.

Crucial to addressing social mobility is to understand the scale of the problem. Since launching the index, we have seen an increased number of employers collecting socio-economic background data on their workforce. A majority of our entrants now ask their new employees whether their parents went to university (53%) or the type of school they attended (51%). Collecting baseline data is a great place for a social mobility inclusion strategy to start.

Recruitment is vital. There is still a strong propensity for firms to recruit from a narrow pool of universities. Among law firms entering the index, eight in 10 hires came from the Russell Group, and we can see that many employers still rely on old recruitment criteria and processes that value polish and presumed experience over talent and potential. Reviewing the recruitment approach is also essential for effective inclusion.

We know that where you grow up has a big impact on where you end up; since launching the index, an increased number of employers are targeting their outreach in social mobility ‘cold spots’, namely parts of the country with the lowest rates of social mobility. This is crucial in ensuring employers are reaching talent from all parts of the UK and providing opportunities where they are needed most.

Emily Hodgson is employer relations manager at The Social Mobility Foundation