Taskforce Roundtable: Championing social-economic diversity at senior level in UK financial & professional services


12th April 2021

Read time

4 minutes

In 2020, the City of London Corporation launched a taskforce, commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and HM Treasury, that will tackle the lack of socio-economic diversity across senior positions within the UK financial and professional services. Connectr are proud to have been selected as one of three Delivery Partners, alongside PwC and Deloitte, to lead the taskforce and drive real change to those who need it most across the sector.

Connectr hosted a digital roundtable for industry individuals to raise awareness of the taskforce and delve into the practical steps sector organisations can make to provide equal opportunity for individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds to step-up and progress in senior roles.

Simon Reichwald, Connectr Delivery Lead for the taskforce: Why is the taskforce needed?

Over the last decade, we have seen some improvements made by businesses to bring diversity and inclusion to the forefront of their early talent attraction strategies. However, if these diverse young people are not recognised or supported once in role, it is likely businesses will lose them. D&I needs to expand outside of just attracting and hiring underrepresented talent, with a lens required on also retaining and progressing these individuals.

Simon shared the research findings in 8 major UK financial firms that led to the launch of the taskforce, authored by The Bridge Group:

  • Almost 9 in 10 senior roles are held by those from higher socio-economic backgrounds
  • Those from lower socio-economic backgrounds take 25% longer to progress, despite no evidence of poorer performance
  • This increases to 32% for those who also identify as Black
  • 7% of senior roles are held by white men who attended an independent or selective state school

Damien Shieber, Head of Culture, Inclusion & Experience, Santander UK:

Why move the dial, and how can this be done?

  • For all organisations, representation is key to moving the dial. We need to ensure we’re not only championing a diverse and inclusive workforce, but truly driving belonging for individuals from all backgrounds. Businesses need to create a culture where people feel safe to be their authentic and true self at work.
  • Santander UK focuses on three key elements to help drive this: Employee resource groups that are dedicated to championing social mobility across the organisation, an executive committee sponsor for social mobility, and participation in the Social Mobility Index.

The journey to data – through the lens of progression and retention

  • How can organisations collect socio-economic background data? Damien shared how this has now been included in Santander UK’s Global Employee Engagement Survey, asking for parental occupation at 14 years within employee demographic questions, as defined by the City of London taskforce. Damien highlighted the importance of creating and maintaining a clear narrative ahead of collecting this data for why this is being collected – to form part of the business’ social mobility strategy.
  • Not only is the collection of SES data crucial, but observing the intersectionality of other protected characteristics’ interaction with this data is also key, such as gender, race, and disability. Businesses can then define key trends and themes of employee experiences that need to be addressed.
  • In addition, understanding and addressing more fully the lived experience of employees across the organisation at all levels can be achieved through holding qualitative focus groups of colleagues to hear first-hand the barriers that are in place and how the organisation can overcome these through informed actions.
  • Focusing on progression and retention, businesses need to identify the structural issues that exist, and place the focus on fixing processes not people. This will help to reform any dominant cultures that exist, and examine the employee lifecycle in its entirety. Collecting social mobility data will help to identify these gaps hugely.

What are some practical steps?

  • Reverse mentoring for leadership team roles involving employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
  • Creating an effective sponsorship structure within the organisation that aims to reduce the risk of over-mentoring and under-sponsoring.
  • Creating a movement, not a mandate. Considerations for building a network of employees who are both passionate about social mobility, but also have first-hand experience of the barriers in place. Leveraging executive colleagues who can sponsor networks and working groups.
  • Ensuring the progression and retention of employees in senior positions from underrepresented groups is a key part of the organisation’s overall D&I strategy.

What did we learn from the roundtable? 

Some of the barriers that currently exist:

  • Lack of, or ineffective, employee engagement strategy post-hire.
  • Lack of connections/relationships for candidates with mentors or colleague peers from different demographic backgrounds.
  • Lack of employee understanding/involvement, particularly from lower seniority levels, in providing support/mentoring to other colleagues.
  • Difficulty in accessing or obtaining SES data, in comparison to other demographics.

Some immediate opportunities to address these barriers:

  • Employee understanding at all levels for why tackling social diversity is important, and creating an effective narrative around this.
  • Data collection from whole workforce.
  • Practicing what we preach, and championing equal opportunity for all, with senior stakeholder buy-in to these strategies.

By April 2022, the goal for Connectr’s workstream is to launch a membership body and enable organisations at any stage of this journey to champion socio-economic diversity at senior levels through a safe space for employers to share best practice, their own lived experiences, and to leverage data to track and measure progress.

If you want to find out more and be part of leading the change, email Simon: simon@connectr.com