How HSBC leveraged technology to engage students from low-opportunity backgrounds

Dec 14, 2023 | Case studies, Diversity, Home Featured

Technology can support students from low-opportunity backgrounds to defy the odds, bring fresh ideas to the workplace and shake up stagnant perceptions, explains Zero Gravity.

In the UK, an uncomfortable truth exists – that talent is spread evenly, but opportunity is not. Socially-mobile talent only make up a fraction of the representation within the top universities and the best careers. Many of the brightest and best minds have been unfairly hindered by:

• Resource drought: While students from wealthier backgrounds have lots of tools at their disposal to build their confidence, their peers at underfunded schools and without professional networks often lack the guidance and support they need to develop key professional skills.

• Imposter syndrome: Students from low opportunity areas are often told not to dream too big, a belief reinforced when they don’t see themselves represented in their dream universities/careers. Mistakenly, they believe that it is because ‘people like them’ won’t be able to keep up with peers within their organisation.

• Awareness gap: Young job seekers without professional networks often lack awareness of potential opportunities. Even once they hear about them, they may not know enough about the sector itself to make a competitive application – despite being more than capable.

• Lack of Network Advantage: Network Advantage is the intangible advantage obtained through access to a broad professional network, which enables information sharing, instils confidence, provides role models and creates opportunities. While those with a network have access to the information and experience required to successfully apply to the best opportunities, those without are left to fend for themselves. How can the application process be considered meritocratic for those without the Network Advantage?

Why does hiring socially-mobile talent matter?

To create a fairer society in which talented individuals get the opportunities they deserve, businesses must play their part. By supporting young people in their careers, and instilling confidence and belief in themselves, businesses have the power to change the entire trajectory of a talented student’s career – and get to where they deserve to be.

Stagnating social mobility is a huge source of untapped economic potential. How many great innovations, academic breakthroughs, and transformational leaders have been lost over the years because of the UK’s uneven playing field? By not hiring a significant portion of the country’s workforce, businesses are denying themselves a significant proportion of the country’s innovative ideas.

An example of why it matters is HSBC. Its desire to attract socially mobile talent is because diversifying HSBC’s workforce is essential for representing the customers and clients of the bank. As well as establishing a business that is purpose-driven and committed to diversity and inclusion; it signals to consumers that this is a business which reflects the public it serves.

How HSBC leveraged technology to engage students from low-opportunity backgrounds

HSBC posed the question: How can we scale our reach in terms of supporting students from low socio-economic backgrounds who don’t have the access to knowledge and role models?
The solution is in innovative tech-led approaches, which provide the key to identifying, reaching, and recruiting socially mobile talent.

By making data-led decisions, employers can be empowered to identify potential candidates early in the socially mobile talent pipeline, facilitating a shift from a reactive to a proactive recruitment strategy. And it works – as HSBC’s flagship partnership with Zero Gravity has proved.

131 Zero Gravity members in their first year of university were matched with a graduate career mentor at HSBC. Over 16 weeks, 372 hours of mentoring occurred, as well 24 masterclasses designed to upskill the members.

At the end of the programme, a Zero Gravity member’s chance of securing a place on HSBC’s Head Start programme doubled.

For low-opportunity students like Natalie Mutiswa, who had 11 mentoring sessions with her HSBC mentor, she found that the programme gave her “the opportunity to speak to someone who actually works at HSBC”, giving her the first taste of the Network Advantage’s power.

With masterclasses and a mentor, Natalie was able to submit a standout application to the HSBC Head Start Programme and has since been awarded a place.

Natalie was not the only success story. Pre-mentoring, 28% of students weren’t confident that they could secure a grad job. Post-mentoring, 97% of students felt confident that they could. Furthermore, pre-mentoring, 81% of students stated that they didn’t have any previous form of work experience. Post-mentoring, 41% of students have now secured an opportunity with support from their mentor.

Why aren’t more businesses hiring socially-mobile talent?

Clued-up organisations have set ambitious social mobility targets and made diversity recruitment a strategic priority. However, the previously reactive traditional approaches of recruiting socially mobile talent have significant constraints – leading to a stagnant pipeline.

• Geographical barriers: Engagement with socially mobile students is often restricted to densely populated urban hubs (eg. in London schools), as in-person outreach comes at a high time and financial cost. But if a student exists in a conversion ‘cold spot’ in the UK, they are isolated from outreach programmes and in-person activations.

• Unable to contextualise talent: Employers grapple with the intricate task of pinpointing true social mobility indicators. No one is walking around with a t-shirt saying that they’re socially mobile and often, people are less likely to proudly talk about their socio-economic background as they are their gender or ethnicity.

• Fishing in pools with no fish: Unfortunately, many universities are grappling with the same challenges of reaching talented WP students as businesses. This means that many employers are ‘fishing’ for talent in university pools that are underrepresented in socially mobile talent. For example, Durham university has only 63% of their intake from State Schools (93% making up the UK average). Searching in a few prestigious institutions will not form the conduit between employers and socially mobile talent.

• Self-disqualification: many students mistakenly disqualify themselves from the search for socially-mobile talent. Too many fantastic access schemes include complex eligibility criteria that students themselves do not understand. Without comprehending terminology such as ‘POLAR’ or ‘ACORN’ scores, they are unable to contextualise their own background within the measures required of the schemes.

• Industry misconceptions: Socially mobile talent will equally disqualify themselves from making applications such as challenges with the process or outdated perceptions where they believe this ‘isn’t a place for them’.

The Zero Gravity and HSBC partnership evidenced how the Network Advantage can be created utilising technology – creating a powerful link between underrepresented talent and employers.

Tech-driven solutions are the key to resolving the UK’s glaring social mobility problem. It’s good for students, good for business, and good for society.

Zero Gravity explored these themes in full at this year’s ISE EDI Conference and their presentation is available to download.

You may also be interested in…

How technology can engage students from low-income backgrounds

Scalable tech can help employers reach socially mobile talent

Attracting diverse talent requires an equally diverse range of approaches

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