When you start the conversation about workplace diversity, discussion most commonly swings around to race, disability and gender.  Yet, there are many other areas in which our unconscious bias can create pockets of exclusion within the workplace, and some of them are only very recently being given the recognition they deserve. When, for example, was the last time you put social mobility under the microscope, in the context of your organisation?

Research has shown that people from more affluent backgrounds take a disproportionate number of the best jobs, but employers are beginning to wise up to social mobility as an area of unconscious bias which has, up until recently, slipped somewhat beneath the diversity and inclusion radar.  When it comes to screening potential job applicants based on their cv, it’s probably as likely an area of bias as gender, race or any other protected characteristic – particularly at entry level, with little else on the cv to go on besides educational establishment, academic attainment, sporting prowess and extra-curricular interests.

Around one in five of the UK’s major firms are now setting targets on social mobility as part of their business strategy, according to a study by the Social Mobility Foundation (SMF).  Social mobility data from almost 100 companies across 17 sectors revealed some interesting, if alarming, findings;

  • 41% of participating companies ask new and existing employees 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.
  • 96% accept degrees from any university, yet 61% of successful applicants attended one of the country’s most selective 24 universities.

The simple fact is that money and privilege should not equal greater opportunity, and many of the above lines of enquiry are simply superfluous and irrelevant.  Life experience gained on a gap year exploring South America is of no greater or lesser merit than life experience gained through leading a local youth group in Tower Hamlets. An ‘A’ grade is an ‘A’ grade, whether attained from a leading private school or a comprehensive in the depths of a socially deprived neighbourhood. Arguably such achievements are all the more powerful for those who have had a tougher start in life, and who have had to create their own opportunity.  Employers who zone in on privileged middle-class candidates, rather than take a more diverse perspective, could well be missing out on individuals with fantastic potential to shine.

Social mobility, like any other area of diversity and inclusion, cannot simply be tackled by taking a box-ticking approach to hiring.  You can’t simply plug the gap by shipping a few more people into to the business who match an under – represented demographic.  That’s diversity, but it most certainly isn’t inclusion, and if it evolves into any level of employee engagement, that will be by luck rather than judgement. Instead what is needed is a holistic approach; one which not only attracts and encourages applications from a diverse candidate pool, regardless of class or social-economic status, but which also works hard to involve, develop and engage them throughout their employment such that they feel included, engaged, loyal, and enabled.  That’s a win for diversity, a win for inclusion, and a win for your organisation in terms of employer brand, profit and productivity.  Sounds like a no brainer … so, how to make it happen?

  • Re-evaluate your employer brand – what does your recruitment marketing material say about your business. Step into the shoes of your potential candidate market, and ask your self whether you genuinely come across as a business that embraces a wide socio-economic demographic of candidate.
  • Refocus your approach to sourcing. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got, as the saying goes. Think about how and where you advertise and  market your vacancies, and whether there are new routes into your business that you have not previously considered, which might open the door to a new and equally valuable kind of candidate.  This might mean offering apprenticeships, internships, or even, if your budgets allow, sponsoring individuals through university in return for a guaranteed commitment after they graduate. There are many ways in which you can reach out to potential high flyers and create opportunities for them which would otherwise not be available.
  • Consider how you request candidate information to be submitted. Blind cvs are a recent concept (where candidates are not required to include their names). This is typically adopted in companies who are keen to remove an element of racial bias, however, there is no reason the same exercise could not be applied with regard to names of educational establishments, or postal addresses (which may indicate a more impoverished upbringing).  It is the end rather than the means that should count – in other words, the grades, capabilities and academic attainment, not the environs in which they were achieved and developed.
  • It’s one thing to have a clear policy within your HR department about a diverse approach to hiring, but it is equally important to educate line managers who will influence the cv shortlisting and interviewing stages. Encourage them to adopt an open minded approach to recognising non-traditional ways of gaining certain qualities and competencies (such as leadership), and ensure that they are regularly trained in effective interview techniques which encourage an open dialogue, and eliminate the risk of unconscious bias over factors such as accents.
  • Finally, it’s absolutely crucial that you develop the right approach to employee engagement across your entire workforce. Bringing a diverse employee base into the business will only achieve inclusion if you work to ensure that the organisational culture supports and engages everybody. We all like to feel like we fit in, like we have a rightful place at the table, and are more than just ‘making up the numbers’.

Hiring for skill, candidate fit and diversity is a tough balancing act, but creating diversity and inclusion in the workplace doesn’t start at the point of hire.  It starts way further back from that, and it should be a conscious part of everything you do.  In fact, the end goal should be more about inclusion than diversity – achieve the former, and the latter will take care of itself. To do that you need to know your organisation’s current position.  In other words, how your business is performing in all areas of diversity. That means setting targets, identifying the specific areas where you fall short and the necessary actions you need to take to raise the bar of inclusivity.

At great{with}diversity we are all about supporting businesses to assess and address a holistic approach to employee engagement which takes into account the needs of every diverse pocket of your current and future employee demographic.  If its time you assessed engagement, diversity and inclusion within your business, contact us about how we can help.  We’re ready to start the conversation whenever you are.