29 September

Why we're focusing on social mobility this #NationalInclusionWeek

We are almost at the end of National Inclusion Week 2023, a time dedicated to celebrating inclusion and taking action to create inclusive workplaces. 

This year’s National Inclusion Week, led by Inclusive Employers, comes in the wake of new research highlighting the need to focus on socio-economic background within inclusion work. These new insights into the impact of socio-economic background on occupational outcomes and access to senior roles are a clear reminder of why our Power of Inclusion initiative is currently focusing on social mobility. 

Earlier this month, the Social Mobility Commission released its annual report ‘State of the Nation 2023: People and places’, which prioritises strengthening data on social mobility by focusing on several intersectional identities. It explores five mobility outcomes (occupation, income, education, housing and wealth) to develop a clear picture of social mobility and breaks results down by region, ethnic background, disability and gender. 

The report emphasises the extent of the connection between socio-economic background and other diversity characteristics. For example, it highlights gendered differences in social mobility. Women are less likely than men to experience upward occupational mobility. It also explores differences across ethnic groups, including that ‘those from Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African ethnicities, are more likely to become university graduates than White British people, but less likely to work in a professional job’. It is an important reminder of the need to address social mobility from an intersectional lens.  

This year’s report also flags regional differences in outcomes, noting that ‘people who grew up in London and the south-east tend to have better chances of upward occupational mobility and those who grew up in the north and the south-west have the poorest’. Employers in the City of London can play an important role in addressing such disparities. Virtual work experience opportunities and advance payments for in-person internships are two ways to widen access to early career opportunities that have been suggested by participants in our workshop series this year.  

Focusing in on London, and having highlighted the benefits of growing up in the capital above, it is in fact a mixed picture for outcomes: 

'Someone growing up in London is more likely to attain higher qualifications, higher earnings and a professional job than someone from the same SEB who grew up in a more rural or remote area. At the same time, the risk of unemployment, economic inactivity, and lower working-class employment is also higher in London.'

It is clear that where you grow up plays a significant role in social mobility. We are interested in hearing how you are making early career opportunities accessible to those based outside of London or hoping to pursue opportunities in the Square Mile. 

Speaking at our first Power of Inclusion workshop in February, which focused on Social Mobility and the cost-of-living crisis, Sarah Churchman, OBE, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing at PwC shared an overview of one of the initiatives at PwC that aim to make early career opportunities more widely accessible: 

"Our Flying Start Programme is a relationship we have with a number of universities to offer, if you like, earn while you learn. So students studying accounting and finance in universities like Reading or Newcastle are able to study and then join us for work placements every year and that enables them to graduate from university part qualified and so they accelerate their route through to the ACA qualification."

Focusing on educational outcomes, the report highlights that ‘people’s highest level of qualification is strongly related to the level of education that their parents achieved’, suggesting educational mobility remains very limited. A low 18% of individuals whose parents have no qualifications will gain a degree but 64% of those whose parents hold degrees will follow in their parent’s footsteps and get a degree. This significant tie between educational outcome and socio-economic background indicates a need to review qualification requirements for early career opportunities where possible. Many businesses are dropping graduate scheme degree requirements with positive results and we hope to see more adopting this approach to recruitment going forwards.  

Progress Together also recently released their inaugural report, 'Shaping our Economy: senior roles in financial services and socio-economic diversity'. The study, conducted by Bridge Group, was the result of a survey of 149,111 employees of Progress Together’s membership organisations, which include some of the biggest financial companies in the UK, including in banking, insurance and asset management. 

The report reveals who holds the senior roles in financial services firms, finding that those from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more than twice as likely to be found in senior roles, compared with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds. The report also looks at the educational backgrounds of those in top roles, finding that 20% attended an independent school, which is more than three times the proportion of pupils in England at these schools. The report goes on to explore what action businesses need to take to improve socio-economic diversity at senior levels within financial services and is a valuable guide to the practices all businesses should be taking to drive change.  

Whilst the research released throughout September highlights a lack of socio-economic diversity in professional services, it is a valuable guide to why businesses must do more to create inclusive workplaces. What have you been doing to create more inclusive work environments for individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds?

To join us at our next Power of Inclusion Social Mobility workshop and collaborate with peers to discuss social mobility in your business click here

Read more about what The Lord Mayor’s Appeal’s Power of Inclusion initiative is doing to address social mobility here

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