Social mobility is often cited as the most neglected element of diversity initiatives. While that’s debatable, it’s certainly true that many employers have struggled to make the same progress towards socioeconomic diversity as they have other key priorities. 
 
The basic definition of social mobility is of a change in socioeconomic situation, between generations or over the course of a lifetime. In reality, social mobility is about much more than finances. It relates to class identity, culture and belonging, networks, opportunity and progression throughout a person’s life and career. It’s highly intersectional, with socially mobile talent also being more likely to be Black, Asian, or minority ethnic. 
 
But even the term “social mobility” can be controversial. You might imagine successful social mobility as a working class teenager getting into Oxbridge. But what is their experience when they get there? What happens when they graduate? Does their success rely on assimilating to a world that was designed to exclude them? And what about the young people who are left behind, because their grades, or financial situation just didn’t quite allow them to achieve that goal? 
 
With social mobility in the UK in the worst position for over 50 years, in 2024 employers need to be thinking more seriously than ever about the tangible steps they’re taking to address the socioeconomic opportunity gap. Here are some ways to get started. 
 
Collect and monitor data. 
You can’t measure progress without understanding your starting point. Far too many organisations still exclude socioeconomic background from their diversity data capture, making it impossible to monitor the impact of any work to improve the situation. 
 
The Social Mobility Commission offers a useful toolkit to help you get started, including advice for building buy-in and the questions to ask. If you’re working across multiple geographies, you might find this guidance from ICAEW helpful. 
 
Invest in creating multiple routes of entry. 
University is not the only way to achieve social mobility and graduate hiring is not the only way to do early careers. There are lots of reasons that going to university isn’t a practical or desirable option for young people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (and lack of talent isn’t one of them). 
 
Apprenticeships, traineeships, paid internships and genuinely entry-level roles are all great ways for young people to get started. You could also offer targeted programmes aimed at increasing the representation of underrepresented groups – partnering with specialist organisations who can help you reach your target audience is a good way to do this. 
 
Hire for potential. 
Regardless of the type of opportunity, if you focus on academic outcomes and past experience only, you’ll likely overlook talented candidates from less privileged backgrounds. Far too many employers look for evidence of experience even for entry-level roles, which is likely to reward those who’ve got the connections to access opportunities or the ability to work for free. 
 
Instead, focus on using blended assessment methods to look for evidence of strengths and potential. Highly structured interviews and work sample tests can be helpful when taking this approach. Whatever you do, beware of fix-all tools that claim to “eliminate bias” from hiring processes – bias can be mitigated, never eliminated entirely. 
 
If you’re looking for more ideas to help you make progress in increasing social mobility in 2024, you can sign up for our upcoming virtual webinar on Thursday 8th February 11-12 on zoom - “Social Mobility – Hiring for Potential” 
 
Click here to register for this event: 
 
 
Felicity Halstead is the Founder of GoodWork, a non-profit delivering pioneering programmes that connect employers with talent, engage teams to deliver social impact and empower the next generation. 
Please enter your details in the box below if you’d like to hear more about upcoming webinars. 
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