4 ways to break down the barriers to social mobility

Jan 31, 2024 | Diversity, Home Featured, How-to

Employers offer invaluable insight to how to we can improve social mobility, explains Dawn Pitchford, at AMS.

With so much evidence in the UK that disadvantaged students will have a harder time getting onto the career ladder, it is no surprise that early career leaders feel passionate about putting social mobility at the top of their strategic agenda.

At the recent ISE EDI conference, AMS was delighted to bring together representatives from three leading early talent employers to understand how their organisations are striving to put social mobility at the epicentre of all other aspects of EDI.

Ellie Long, Early Careers Lead at Rolls-Royce, Lauren McCafferty, Head of Early Careers at Deloitte and Jane Eccles, Santander AMS Early Careers Senior Manager, spoke openly. They discussed the steps being taken and the long road still ahead, to ensure a level playing field for disadvantaged students across the UK.

The panel discussion, hosted by Lauren Cunningham, Early Careers Client Director at AMS, focused on what is being done to break down barriers and build a socially mobile future talent pipeline.

Here are some of the key takeaways, they offer four ways to break down the barriers to social mobility:

1. Build programmes and partnerships
Building programmes and partnerships into your strategy that directly support social mobility is critical.

Traditional routes into an early career programme can be less accessible for disadvantaged students, so creating programmes directly targeting specific groups can create new routes in, opening a door to their future that they might not have even known existed.

Work experience, insight days, diversity-focused internships and even specific apprenticeship schemes can greatly increase the pool of diverse candidates entering your organisation. They can also be a key feeder into your more traditional graduate and apprenticeship schemes through a robust conversation process.

Rolls-Royce’s i-Accelerator Insights Week programme is a great example of this. Now in the second year running, it has brought nearly 50 ethnically diverse students onto a one-week hybrid work experience programme focused on the future of data, technology and AI in engineering.

Rolls-Royce has partnered with EDI Careers to create the programme and has worked closely with local schools in disadvantaged areas to build a strong pipeline. This programme has proven to be a great experience for participants, with a high conversion rate into Rolls-Royce’s core programmes.

2. Review attraction and assessment approaches
Attraction and assessment approaches are critical to get right if you want to be successful in building your social mobility pipeline.

Panellists reflected on an earlier session from that day where diverse apprentices discussed the importance of authenticity in an organisation’s marketing.

Providing a realistic view of your organisation and the experience someone will have on your programmes is more appealing to students than fancy imagery or over produced videos. They want to hear from other diverse students on your programmes and to understand what a day in the life of an apprentice, intern or graduate is like.

Creating a sense of belonging through your advertising will help students from less advantaged backgrounds feel more confident that they too can flourish in an early career programme.

Equally important is ensuring your assessment process is not having an adverse impact on any candidates. Panellists discussed the steps they have taken to remove barriers in the process: removing CVs, reducing grade requirements, introducing blended assessments and removing group exercises, to name a few.

3. Measure with robust data
Measuring social mobility initiatives with robust data can prove more challenging than other types of diversity reporting, but it is such an important source of information when understanding how your organisation is doing when it comes to diversity hiring.

Social mobility measures can be complicated to define, with multiple questions recommended to gain a sense of a candidate’s social mobility status.

Many organisations do not yet ask any questions around social mobility on their early career application forms, deeming it near to impossible to understand how they are doing in this space.

The panel openly discussed the steps they’ve taken to start capturing social mobility data, as well as what more needs to be done at an organisational level to ensure this data is captured across all employees, not just early career candidates.

Where social mobility is being measured, disclosure can sometimes be an issue, with candidates hesitant to provide this information. Ensuring it is clear why you are collecting it, that it is confidential and will not impact the recruitment process can help increase the completion of these questions.

4. Engage stakeholders
Finally, we covered the role business stakeholders play in the successful execution of early career social mobility strategy.

First looking at the top – having an organisational focus on DEI and social mobility is critical to successfully embedding this as an early career priority.

Early Career teams can educate through data and results to help turn the dial, but bigger change is needed and must be done at the organisation level.

One of the biggest impacts we heard the panel discuss when it comes to business stakeholder engagement is the training programmes that have been put into place for hiring managers and assessors.

After completing training focused on biases and the importance of social mobility, panel members shared how impressed they have been with the strong engagement from the business to the social mobility strategy, which has resulted in positive hiring outcomes.

There is still much to be done to reduce the inequalities we see every day. However, the early career leaders on the panel were able to provide a wide variety of examples of the steps employers can take to make a difference, opening up new doors to disadvantaged students and supporting them as they navigate the recruitment process.

Whether your organisation is an unknown brand hiring a small number of graduates a year, or a global branding hiring thousands, finding ways to increase your pipeline of candidates with lower social mobility, capturing this data so you can measure outcomes and engaging the business in this process will lead to stronger diversity hiring and help to level the playing field for strong, young talent across the UK.

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