Social mobility has gained increasing attention in recent times. Put simply, it is about equality of opportunity. It’s about someone’s future not being pre-determined by their circumstances; ensuring that doors are not closed to people because of the school they went to, where they grew up or what their parents do for a living.
Laura Hinton (Head of People at PwC and Heart of the City Council Member) writes about how businesses can support social mobility and provides 5 top tips towards solving the issue of social mobility.
Recent reports have shown just how hard it can be for people born into a background of relative disadvantage to get on in life. Some people face significant difficulties overcoming barriers that exist through no fault of their own, often resulting in them achieving lower educational and employment outcomes. Children from poorer families are more likely to fall behind expected standards at school, and sometimes even before they start school; they’re less likely to go to university, particularly a more selective university; they will, on average, earn less than their peers from wealthier families; and people from working-class backgrounds are still significantly under-represented at the top levels of industry, politics and even sport.
A lack of social mobility means businesses and other organisations miss out on talented people, individuals can’t fulfill their potential, and the economy misses out on the skills and productivity those people could provide. Recent research by the Sutton Trust estimated that a failure to improve low levels of social mobility will cost the UK economy up to £140 billion a year by 2050.
The issues related to social mobility are complex. But businesses have a key role to play in advancing social mobility and being part of the solution. As major employers and influencers in the society we serve, business has the power to lead the way and effect positive change.
At PwC we’ve had a focus on social mobility for some time. We were pleased to be recognised in the Government’s first Social Mobility Employer Index last year, but wanted to go further. We created a social mobility team and developed a five-year social mobility strategy, to enable us to lead by example and use our skills and resources to help people from less privileged backgrounds make the most of their potential.
1. Widen access to your organisation
Think about the routes into your business and how accessible they are for people from all backgrounds. In recent years, PwC has dropped UCAS points as a requirement for our graduate programmes; expanded our school and college leaver opportunities; launched paid technology degree apprenticeships at Belfast (Queens), Birmingham and Leeds universities, which combine work and study; and expanded our paid work experience programmes, to help ensure our own recruitment processes are fair and accessible for all.
2. Ensure your work environment is inclusive
Don’t just think about getting people into your organisation; ensure the working environment helps them thrive when they get there. Seek to promote an open-minded and equitable culture, to ensure that everyone is treated equally, performance is fairly rewarded and progression is based on merit.
3. Connect with local communities
It’s important to support activities that go beyond the workplace. Working with local communities can help to inspire young people, raise skills and aspirations, and make the world of business real and accessible. We work with dozens of schools, many of which are in social mobility coldspots or have high proportions of children on free school meals, to help young people become more aware of the world of work and make informed choices about future career paths. We also support 250 social enterprises, which are often run by, and serve, some of the most disadvantaged communities across the UK.
4. Spread the social mobility message
Social mobility is a broad term, which may mean different things to different people. So be prepared to educate as you go, both inside and outside the business. Having buy-in from senior leadership is essential, but embedding social mobility throughout your business will need input from across the organisation. Use internal news channels to update people on the activities you’re taking to address social mobility and how they can get involved; and think about using your website to share what you’re doing with external audiences.
5. Collaborate (and mean it)
Collaboration is something businesses often talk about but don’t always do. Improving social mobility is too big for any organisation to address on their own, so meaningful collaboration with government, civil society and other businesses is essential. The Government’s Opportunity Areas programme works in 12 of the neediest local authority areas in England. For example, we work with the Careers and Enterprise Company and other local employers to support the educational and employment aspirations of the young people of Bradford.
Inequality blights society and harms people’s life chances; by supporting improved social mobility, business can help create a level playing field for everyone, wherever they come from. This will have tangible benefits for business, the economy and society as a whole. All businesses, whatever their size, can play their part. So get involved, and let’s create a business environment where everyone can make the most of their potential.