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Catching up and keeping up - Social Mobility within Diversity & Inclusion

Any ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ spirit shown publicly by organisations, is likely to be twinned with a less-seen, struggle to truly embed said culture into fabric, on a permanent basis. 

Diversity & Inclusion has stood proudly at the table of self-reflective, moral consciousness that’s been building in the business world since the turn of the millennium. Year by year, the messages become clearer, CSR seems more attainable to those who thought it was just for larger firms and ultimately, a strategy of some kind is widely expected to be in place, especially from the younger generation of talent entering work.

And great steps have been taken in many avenues of ‘inclusion’ in the workplace. Sometimes happening naturally when the right variation of minds come together, a team clicks and different perspectives result in markable growth, markable profits. For many though, it’s a journey of learning and guidance with a widespread, collective need to implement something correctively. Organisations want to catch up and keep up with those who are seen to be ’doing it right’.

However, awareness of the broader issues, the full spectrum of characteristics that make up what we know as D&I still often falls short. At Inventum, we regularly see organisations failing primarily to understand themselves. Failing to understand the differences in thinking amid key decision makers, failing to recognise the blockages in long established practice and the biases that exist in their day-to-day function. These are the internal sources of the any issue that might fall under diversity & inclusion.

Of course, data on the makeup of a workforce is key, it sounds obvious but without a D&I strategy in place, many mid-sized companies simply fall under the radar in terms of knowing who their people are and what effect those people have on each other. But it also needs to include the top of the tree. It starts with the Leaders and the second challenge then lays at the feet of those decision makers - to simply understand the full the range diversity and inclusion issues that exist in the modern workplace.

One example of a less talked about D&I issue we face in the workplace today, is social mobility...

A glance at your average social media feed assumes D&I is limited to gender, ethnicity or disability, but the ability for individuals to apply for, secure and succeed in roles above (or below) their social strata sit at the heart of what D&I is really all about in a business - people, progression and ability.

These are the core values any successful organisation should really have set in stone and It’s something that every company (or senior person of responsibility) with a desire to make a change, under the banner of D&I, should be actioning.

Many have... or so they thought… The government’s recent apprentice scheme talked big on tackling social mobility and was seen by many as a catalyst for change that conveniently ticked the D&I box. 

Four years on and seeing how the scheme ultimately failed on its social mobility objectives, the onus has fallen back onto organisations to forge their own, unique actions to tackle this long-established problem in the world of work.

The packaged and ready to go apprentice scheme promised change, but really only highlighted the ongoing challenges with social mobility. The Social Mobility Commission report in June of last year summarised this as such…

"Following the levy’s introduction, there was a large fall in the number of learner starts – with the worst-off learners bearing the brunt. Between 2015/16 and 2017/18, the number of disadvantaged apprentice starts overall fell by 36% – 13% more than the corresponding drop for their more privileged apprentice colleagues. Today, workplace learners from more deprived backgrounds are less likely to get selected for an apprenticeship than their more privileged peers. If they are successful, it is likely to be for an entry-level Intermediate placement – usually working in a sector where despite their importance to the economy overall they have traditionally lower rates of pay, such as health, education or hospitality. They also have a lower probability of completing their course, and hence are less likely to benefit from the boost in earnings that follows. At the same time, the more lucrative Higher apprenticeships in, for example, ICT or engineering, are increasingly the province of more privileged learners, whose share of them continues to grow."

It was never going to be a quick fix, but we can all learn from the scheme, where relevant - and if it’s not obvious to you where, then we’re here to guide you. In the post-pandemic climate there’s an air of opportunity, for organisations to learn, plan and funnel resources and energy and a newer, better hiring process that unlike most functions of business, has barely changed in 100 years.

Joe Wells