Why boosting social mobility drives early talent success


25th July 2022

Read Time

6 Minutes

The importance of levelling the playing field for all candidates

We recently spoke at the 2022 ISE Student Recruitment Conference & Awards where our Strategic Lead for Talent, Simon Reichwald, led a panel of speakers who discussed the defining characteristics of successful early talent programmes. You can read all about their discussion here. 

One of the other sessions we attended, (this time as delegates), focused on the need for organisations to help people from low Socio Economic Status (SES) backgrounds progress, despite the barriers they continue to face.    

The discussion also addressed the key role technology plays in helping organisations break down socio-economic barriers, creating a fairer and more level playing field that benefits emerging talent, employers, and the wider economy.  

This session resonated strongly with us because we are involved in the nationwide roll-out of an initiative called Progress Together which focuses on improving socio-economic diversity at senior levels in the Financial Services sector.  

In this article, we share some of the discussion’s main points and also link to a selection of reports and resources which are available to help boost social mobility.  

Why address socio-economic mobility?  

Social mobility – improving opportunities for people from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds – has become a top priority for many employers, and this is especially true when it comes to graduate recruitment.  

However, despite noticeable progress in recent years, we have a long way to go before a level playing field is perceived to be available for all. Recent research by the Social Mobility Foundation and Sanctuary Graduates  reveals the scale of the problem:  

  • The biggest barrier to SES mobility is high academic bars not relevant to roles such as 2:1 and higher degree qualifications alongside high ‘A’ Level results.  
  • The UK has lower mobility levels than other countries. A pre-pandemic survey showed £140 billion cost per year to 2050 as the cost of social mobility issues.  
  • In 2022 low SES mobility remains a real issue and employers have a role to play 
  • The lack of perceived ‘polish’ that comes from higher SES backgrounds and educations is still a barrier in some professional services companies.   
  • Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) policies are becoming more important to employees, consumers, and business investors – people want change.  
  • Employers still need to overcome the stigma attached to apprenticeships which can be seen by some as the ‘poor cousins’ of graduate schemes.  

How equity supports SES equality   

It’s important to emphasise the difference between equality and equity. Although both promote fairness, equality achieves this by treating everyone the same regardless of need, while equity achieves this by treating people differently depending on their needs. This applies every bit as much to achieving socio-economic equality as it does in other areas of DE&I.  

“If equality is the end goal, equity is the means to get there.” – Social Change UK 

Using equity to achieve SES equality 

A data-led approach 

Using data to measure SES in candidates, and to provide additional support where needed is the starting point for organisations. Factors considered include parent occupation while at secondary school, access to free school meals, schools attended, and Further Education level of parental education.  

Data can also provide insight into recruitment and retention patterns, helping organisations identify if candidates from low SES groups are reneging following application and initial engagement.  

Preboarding, onboarding, and mentoring 

Working from home and hybrid working call for careful preboarding and onboarding programmes. Despite these efforts, many organisations still won’t achieve the same levels of belonging experienced from working in a shared office space. Ongoing, multi-touch-point buddying and mentoring can go a long way to ensuring culture is maintained and programmes are successful.  

Although many organisations work hard on candidate attraction and recruitment, some fail to emphasise progression and ensuring talent from low SES backgrounds remain committed to their employer and engaged in their roles- this is key to retention.   

Creating a blueprint for progression is central to engagement, motivation, and confidence-building. Using mentoring to connect people from low SES groups with peers from similar backgrounds helps early talent understand what they can achieve.  

Finance matters 

If candidates are working in offices and shared workspaces, do they have enough money for travel during the early weeks and months of their employment? Individuals may be financially unable to apply for positions because high travel costs are an insurmountable obstacle.  

Do candidates and employees with duties of care have the financial resources and the time they need to balance their responsibilities? If an employee with a duty of care is expected to attend an out-of-town meeting, could an expense for third-party help be permissible as well as hotel and travel expenses? 

Access to resources 

Digital poverty is still an issue for many households across the UK.  Not all candidates will have access to the technology that is key to remote and hybrid working. Employers should be aware and consider if candidates have access to Wi-Fi, adequate internet, and smartphones? Do they have enough space to work at home and are there any resources (e.g. furniture) which will help them to perform in their role?  

Harnessing mentoring software to shape the future  

Mentoring software like Connectr for Candidates and Connectr for Employees is also key to their early talent development programmes, helping them shape programmes which focus on SES mobility alongside other DE&I factors.  

Connectr’s software includes sophisticated algorithms designed specifically to identify candidates and existing employees from different SES backgrounds and uses this as the framework for creating effective at-scale mentoring programmes that bring people together.  

For candidates from low SES backgrounds, it’s essential that they have access to colleagues and peers with similar experiences.  

This can make all the difference between seeing candidates succeed as the result of the support versus seeing them struggle before they’ve even got started, which can lead to reneges.  

Additional resources for employers 

Read out Science of Effective Mentoring Report to learn how to create an impactful programme that supports people at all levels. We also explain how this generates business value and provides a strong return on investment.  

The Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation 2022: A fresh approach to social mobility report includes detailed guidance for employers.