By Robert Clear, Researcher in the City of London Research Team
In discussions about prosperity there is an increasing focus on social mobility, particularly on the career barriers faced by workers from disadvantaged backgrounds. It’s still the case that recruitment by many large, high-profile firms is slanted towards those who are privately educated and attended the most selective universities (for example, 40% of City employees went to a private school, compared to 13% in London and 7% in the UK as a whole).
Some firms, however, are taking steps to be more socially inclusive in their hiring and work practices. To encourage this, and to acknowledge the progress many organisations have made, the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission, in partnership with the City of London Corporation, have published an index of the top 50 employers who have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. This assesses participants across a range of areas, including work with young people, recruitment, selection and progression. Currently only 66% do not set social mobility targets, and the aim of project is to encourage employers to share their initiatives, as well as to highlight which companies and sectors are making progress.
Part of the research carried out for the Index looks at how companies measure their inclusiveness. It was found that, amongst the firms who submitted themselves for consideration, many now ask employees about their social background. This is important because it can provide evidence about indicators of social disadvantage, and can be used to determine how successful employers are at broadening their reach. Among those companies that participated in the index:
· 41% ask the type of school attended
· 26% ask if an employee received free school meals
· 39% ask if employees were the first in their family to go to university
· 7% ask about parental occupation
· 11% ask about the postcode where an employee grew up
It’s known that employers find the complexity of measuring social mobility challenging, and that firms make different decisions about what kinds of information to look for. There is a need then, not only to encourage firms to seek information to measure their efforts at promoting inclusiveness, but to do so in a way that is comprehensive and can be used to make comparisons across industries.
The Index is the first of its kind in the UK, and its launch last month was widely publicised (it was recognised as campaign of the month by the Government Communication Service). It’s hoped that the annual publication will encourage good practice in promoting social mobility, bolstering expectations that companies will search for employees from a wider range of backgrounds and seek effective ways of measuring the diversity of their workforce.
 The index is drawn from a cohort of nearly 100 employers across 17 sectors.