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5 ways to build a culture of inclusion and social mobility

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Where you start in life shouldn’t determine where you end up. But the reality is that opportunities for upward social mobility are still incredibly limited. Too many people face barriers to joining and thriving in their profession of choice. Just look at the data. The Social Mobility Commission 2022 reported that 56% of adults in the UK think social inequality has increased and 79% think there is now a bigger gap between social classes.

Improving socio-economic inclusiveness isn’t just about doing the right thing – there’s a strong business case for it. Companies that don’t create a more inclusive work environment run the risk of losing talented employees and reducing their bottom line. As Accenture reveals, companies that focus on social mobility earn 1.4 times more profit than their competitors. Here are five concrete steps to building a culture of representation, inclusion and social mobility:

Related: 5 Ways to Immediately Create a More Inclusive Workplace — and Why You Should

1. Expand access to work

Without the right networks, connections and support, accessing opportunities can be a real challenge. Cast the net wider when hiring and ensure that the opportunities you create are truly viable and accessible options.

  • The Social Mobility Commission has identified “cold spots” – areas with higher levels of deprivation, fewer good schools and fewer professional and management occupations. However, these factors do not translate into a lack of competence or professionalism. A partnership with these colleges or universities could greatly increase the diversity of candidates entering your graduate program.

  • Create varied routes to the workplace. Explore different ways to encourage a wider range of candidates to join your company. For example, could you offer paid internships, apprenticeship programs or targeted recruitment aimed at underrepresented groups?

  • Representation matters. Ensuring your current workforce is diverse and representative, including in leadership roles, is one of the key ways to attract applications from a wide range of candidates.

2. Implement fairer recruitment processes

A 2020 study found that ethnic minority applicants need to complete 60% more applications in order to receive as many callbacks as their counterparts. If you want to evolve social mobility, it is essential that you view your recruitment practices through a lens of diversity and inclusion and make adjustments accordingly.

  • Reduce the biases that prevent diverse candidates from progressing through your recruitment process. One way to do this is through blind hiring – where details that carry risks of characterization and discrimination, such as education and citizenship, are omitted from a candidate’s profile.

  • Keep in mind the broader context in which applicants completed their studies – for example, an applicant graduating at the top of their class, while caring for a parent with a disability and working part-time , can show more talent and dedication than a counterpart in one of the best institutions. Tools like the Rare Contextual Recruitment System can help with this.

  • Take a closer look at the requirements you attach to vacancies. Ask yourself: is it inclusive – and necessary – to demand educational outcomes that are financially unattainable for the majority of the population?

Related: 5 Tips for a More Effective DEI Recruitment Manual

3. Foster a culture of radical authenticity

There’s no point in inviting working-class people into your organization if your company culture is broken. Too many socially mobile employees feel like they have to constantly change their behaviors to fit the job. This must stop.

  • Encourage staff to be themselves and eliminate discriminatory microaggressions. No one should be ridiculed or stereotyped for their past.

  • Ensure inclusiveness. Are your team activities and days away accessible, affordable and diverse?

  • It’s hard to be sensitive to another person’s vulnerability without first knowing what it’s like to be vulnerable yourself. In your interactions at work, listen carefully, give of yourself, and make an effort to help people find their voice.

4. Create meaningful growth opportunities

Access is not the only problem. There are many barriers that prevent underrepresented talent from advancing in the workplace and into senior management. An academic article published in the American Sociological Review found this professionals from lower socioeconomic classes were less likely to ask for raises and promotions and more likely to have feelings associated with “impostor syndrome.” It is the responsibility of all business leaders to create a more inclusive environment at the top.

  • Collecting quality data is the essential first step to making a difference in social mobility. By incorporating social mobility data into diversity and inclusion questionnaires, you can get a much clearer picture of the economic disadvantages that can hinder progress. Use this data to identify the most effective interventions and ensure they make a meaningful difference.

  • The class pay gap is larger than the gender pay gap, but it receives far less attention. According to an analysis by the UK’s Social Media Commission, working-class people in professional jobs earn 17% less than their more privileged colleagues. Investigate pay gaps by grade in your company and take steps to address them.

  • The boardroom is a great place to raise new voices. Create opportunities for those with no prior experience in board-level positions by expanding Non-Executive Director (NED) appointments to a wider audience.

Related: 6 Ways to Cultivate a Diverse and Equal Workplace

5. Share your business acumen

One of the reasons working-class people find it difficult to start their own business is the lack of access to entrepreneurial education. How can you help budding entrepreneurs develop essential business skills?

  • A great way to share knowledge with others is to post resources on your website or social profiles that could facilitate knowledge sharing and learning.

  • Participate in podcasts, seminars, and events where you can spread the lessons you’ve learned over the course of your career to a wider audience.

  • Join forces with universities and non-traditional institutions to bring entrepreneurial education to the masses.

By using the five tips above, you can start supporting social mobility now. Make a difference in your workplace today and create a more inclusive environment. Start by expanding the network when hiring, reassess your recruiting practices through a lens of diversity and inclusion, foster a culture of radical authenticity, create meaningful opportunities for progression, and share your knowledge.