Sometimes it can feel as though improving the social mobility picture in the UK is an insurmountable task.
For a child born into a family in the lowest earning decile, it would take them four to five generations to reach the national average income (OECD ‘A broken social elevator? How to promote social mobility’, 2018).
When the horizon looks so bleak, it can be all too easy for the political decision-makers to place priorities elsewhere, or give up on the matter entirely. Employers too, often speak the rhetoric of why diverse talent is important, but struggle with truly owning their role in promoting social mobility through their recruitment and working practices when success is so hard to define.
The first words that come to mind when employers start thinking about social mobility are often about equality of ‘opportunity’, ‘ambition’, or ‘aspiration’. All of which, like success, are difficult to measure. Or at least, they are until data insight comes into play. Using data to benchmark where an organisation is at in its social mobility efforts, at a local level and across the organisation, makes progress significantly more achievable. You can’t know where you can go next if you don’t know where you currently stand.
That’s why at Shoosmiths, where our commitment to social mobility has grown organically over many years, it was important that we took the step of assessing who we are and how we can best contribute (as a national law firm) to the drive for change – without pretending that we can ‘solve’ social mobility on our own.
Since we signed the Social Mobility Pledge in 2018, our work with Rt Hon Justine Greening and the Social Mobility Pledge team has helped us to frame our thinking into a Social Mobility Action Plan, which we launched this week; combining an audit of our existing activity, socio-economic analysis of each of the locations in which we have an office or hub, and a location specific action plan. Breaking down what we can do in this way means that we can speak to our firm-level beliefs – talent can come from anywhere, being yourself at work, and partnering with our clients and communities – whilst adapting our approach to the nuances of our geographical footprint which stretches right across the UK, taking in a number of social mobility ‘cold spots’.
By pairing socio-economic data from 13 UK locations with a targeted action for each, we hope that we’ll be able to make tangible progress quicker. For example, in an area where positive destinations for school leavers is lower, that’s the audience we’ll focus on. Whereas in areas where the data shows that the main barrier for adults is entry points into professional roles, we’ll focus our efforts there.
Location specific actions are complemented by a commitment to continued collaboration, sharing good practice, and championing social mobility. As well as delivering on our own actions, we see our action plan as a conduit to start conversations with others – clients, suppliers, educational institutions, and community organisations – and with the wider business community.
Of course, there’s a long way to go, and a lot of work still to do. Covid-19 has made the situation even more complex, by exacerbating existing challenges and adding new ones – removing barriers to opportunity needs to be at the centre of the country’s recovery effort.
However, by putting data at the heart of how the UK approaches its social mobility challenge, meaningful change can happen