Graduate employers need to innovate to increase socioeconomic diversity

Apr 27, 2023 | Diversity, Home Featured, Opinion

Socioeconomic diversity is critical to business success. Melissa Aitchison at The Social Mobility Foundation explains why innovation is important and practices that can deter socially mobile talent.

 The pandemic and now the cost-of-living crisis have had a profound impact on the graduate recruitment market.

At the positive end, the rise in hybrid working has resulted in increased engagement with non-Russell Group universities and remote working is enabling employers to recruit talented young people from across the country.

However, for the less fortunate, the crises have reduced opportunities and created further barriers. ISE’s podcast discussed how the pandemic has impacted social mobility..

As with any crises, the employers who fair best are the ones most willing to adapt and take risks to ensure they can continue to hire the best talent.


Focus on socioeconomic diversity

Many graduate employers are recognising that they need to address how they run their outreach, attraction and recruitment to ensure they are not inadvertently mistaking ‘polish’ for potential.

Organisations are rightly assessing whether accent and connections have been mistaken for ability, and bolder organisations, such as PwC and Santander have dropped their 2:1 academic requirement for their graduate roles.

Last year ISE revealed for the first time less than half of graduate employers were stipulating a 2:1 degree.

The attention being paid to socioeconomic diversity is not merely altruistic. McKinsey research showed that ‘socioeconomic diversity’ in the workforce was associated with higher company performance. Those who do not invest in this issue simply won’t have the talent they need tomorrow.

Similarly, Goldman Sachs found that the number of large British companies talking about social mobility and recruitment when reporting annual earnings has quadrupled in a decade. That trend is reflected in the growth we have seen in our Social Mobility Employer Index.

Over the past two years some of the most competitive graduate employers across sectors from banking and finance, to law and professional services have joined.


Employers go the ‘extra mile’ for social mobility

Many employers in the Social Mobility Employer Index have used the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic as a clarion call to double down on social mobility.

Innovative employers are going the extra mile to ensure they can attract talent by providing accommodation for those living outside of London so they can participate in work experience.

Firms such as Freshfields are not just providing technology for the duration of the work experience placement but allowing young people to keep their devices.

When it comes to recruitment employers are ensuring Russell Group candidates are not being automatically or unduly favoured and are taking individuals context into greater consideration.  

Read how HSBC is using ‘taster days’ to attract people from low socio-economic backgrounds.


Some practices deter socially mobile talent

However, despite the clear business case many remain oblivious to how their practices are deterring talent.

The 2022 Index report found 8% of Index entrants hosted unpaid internships, meaning nearly 500 young people effectively work for free.

Similarly, the phenomenon of graduate scheme ‘exit fees’, where young people are financially penalised for deciding against their chosen career once they gain experience of it for the first time is holding employers back from getting the best talent.

These practices only work to deter future applicants from applying for the jobs employers offer. Employers can ensure they are not cutting off this talent with our help.  

Implementing smart interventions to improve social diversity doesn’t have to cost the earth. The leading employer in the Social Mobility Index in 2022, Browne Jacobson said: “We do not have limitless resources, yet our success has been achieved through a change of approach that everyone can adopt”.

Every employer can change their business for the better and unlock their potential talent, they just need to be committed enough and willing to innovate.

By entering our Employer Index, employers can access detailed, practical advice on their social mobility strategies and activities that will help graduate employers to understand and remove the barriers that prevent individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from accessing highly skilled roles.

The 2023 employer Index is now open you can apply here. All employers can enter anonymously and will receive a bespoke feedback report.

You may also be interested in reading

Why the UK is still socially immobile and what to do about it

How student employers can enhance social mobility

 5 ways to support hybrid workers from less privileged backgrounds

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