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Social Mobility: Why Should You Include It in Your Diversity & Inclusion Strategy?

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Social Mobility: Why Should You Include It in Your Diversity & Inclusion Strategy?

The opportunities of developing Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace tend to focus on improving the representation of ethnic minority groups or creating a better gender divide. But the topic of social mobility remains on the fringes of the conversion, due to the limited understanding around barriers and class perceptions. 

Communications leaders often prioritise increasing the visibility of racially diverse and LGBTQI+ employees, without any consideration of their socio-economic background. To create a truly diverse team you need to consider social mobility and how it fits into your vision of an equal and fair workplace, as part of a long-term commitment.

What is social mobility and why is it so important?

Social mobility is defined as the movement of individuals or groups up or down the socio-economic ladder, indicating a strong link between the person’s occupation and that of their parents. While your background should not determine your future, the current structures mean that your birth frequently dictates your access to education, internships and job opportunities. This is an increasingly problem in the UK, which currently ranks 21st on the World’s Economic Forum’s Social Mobility Index – behind most G7 countries. 

The protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, including race, ethnicity and gender, mean that we are starting to see progress in diversity across marketing, digital and communication industries. However, by excluding socio-economic background from the conversation, we are ignoring the issues of rejections based on a perceived “cultural fit” – which is often shorthand for undesired social class, less prestigious education or even accent. 

Alexandra Sufit, Former Head of Employer Communications at the Social Mobility Commission, highlights the importance of understanding how background intersects with other characteristics:

“A truly progressive D&I strategy doesn’t simply pick one area to focus on. That’s a tick box exercise. Your data may show that you’ve been steadily improving gender representation, but if you drill down into the numbers, you may find that your company doesn’t have a single black woman from a working-class background in a senior position. This is why detail matters.”

The lack of socio-economic representation

The lack of social mobility has a deep impact on access to jobs, earnings, job training or adult education. The geography plays part too, as those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are less likely to move to London, where majority of the opportunities are concentrated.  

According to Social Mobility Commission, only 34% of employees in professional jobs come from a working-class background, earning on average 17% less when entering professional occupation that their middle-class counterparts. In addition, nearly half of adults from lower socio-economic backgrounds have received no training since leaving school, as employer-funded training is more likely to be given to those from privileged backgrounds. 

Earnings and job training

What can employers do to improve representation?

“Social mobility benefits employers, by driving innovation, improving staff retention and boosting productivity,” Alexandra comments. 

“It benefits employees, by removing artificial barriers that hinder them from landing good jobs and crucially, from progressing in their careers. And social mobility creates, simply put, a fairer and more equal society that we can all benefit from.”

There are many ways that employers can improve diversity and socio-economic representation in their workplaces: 

  • Outreach - Partner with schools and colleges to provide access opportunities for a variety of candidates and offer jobs or internships outside of London.

  • Progression - Reduce barriers such as academic qualifications where possible and offer training, ensuring clear paths to progression that are accessible to all. 

  • Culture - Showc