Your chances are half mine

How businesses can step up to improve social mobility

Authors: Holly Hensler and Sam Taylor

The UK has a big social mobility problem. People from lower socio-economic backgrounds face challenges in building the kind of lives others take for granted.

The recent A-level grades u-turn shines a light on the problem. In the summer of 2020, the pandemic-hit cohort of students did not sit their exams and instead were awarded grades. Initially, each student was provided a grade by their school and then a centralised computer model was applied to standardise grades nationally and avoid grade-inflation. Almost 40% of grades were marked down by the model, hitting poorest pupils the hardest. Alongside this, private and independent schools saw a boost in top marks with a 4.7% increase from last year, while state schools saw only a 0.3% increase in top marks. As public outcry mounted, the UK government u-turned on the computer modelled grades and reverted to those of the schools.

The initial approach highlights the potential institutional barriers faced. The grades you achieve in school pave the way for greater access to opportunity in later life. Young people who achieve lower grades are less able to access selective universities, which further reduces their chances of getting into higher socio-economic jobs. The chain reaction of opportunity access at each stage of life greatly impacts your future - for many, their fate is mapped out for them before they’re even born.

Social mobility matters. Here’s why.

Social mobility is key to reducing inequalities in our society. In today’s climate, it could be tempting to simply be happy for a young person when they secure any job. But it’s a little bit more complicated than that. The quality of job you have largely determines what quality of life you have and the privilege that comes with that. It’s such an important issue that the UN has made it part of their 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as SDG 10 - Reducing Inequalities.

As with the exam example, social mobility issues can have a devastating impact on the population. Children born into lower socio-economic households struggle to move into higher social classes due to systematic restrictions beyond their control. For example, those from better-off backgrounds are almost 80% more likely to be in a professional job than their working class peers. This entrenches inequality within our society and it hasn’t changed even after decades of attention.

There is no single source of truth for social mobility

When Barry Matthews, UK & EMEA General Council at Meggitt, a FTSE 250 aviation and aerospace company, and Barry Murphy, Senior Partner at PwC, a professional services firm, started investigating the social mobility problem space, they quickly realised there isn’t a single place for business leaders to understand the challenge and do something about it. Social mobility is complex and difficult to define precisely. Not having a shared understanding makes it harder to take action and make a real difference.

Having experienced the struggles of social mobility themselves, they set up the Employers Social Mobility Alliance (ESMA) with a mission to create a shared understanding of what social mobility is and what employers, educators, policymakers and the public can do to improve it together. They set out to create a go-to platform to find the best research in this space as well as up-to-date resources on funds and schemes.

Collaboration and coalitions can make a difference

To help ESMA fulfil their strategic goals, Red Badger has joined ESMA as a technology partner. As a consultancy that cares a great deal about social impact, we’re driven to create social change through our work and collaborations. Together with ESMA, we’re co-creating the first iteration of their digital presence. Our multidisciplinary team has been hard at work designing, building and user-testing ESMA’s platform ready to be shared with the wider audience later this month.

Making real long-lasting change is not easy, but collaborating together in a diverse group drawn from across industries is the way to change the odds.

Here are 3 things you can do to help:

1. Share knowledge with people who can make a difference

Sharing knowledge and resources on social mobility and its importance is one of the simplest ways to make a difference. The government’s ‘State of Nation’ white paper is a great start for your deep dive into social mobility. With clear graphs and charts indicating the government’s data on social mobility, such as ‘women from a working-class background in professional jobs earn 36 per cent less than men from a professional background in professional jobs’ (pg 11); reading, digesting and sharing this paper is your best start.

When ESMA’s new website launches highlighting social mobility issues and research in an accessible, compelling portal please share the link widely. Watch out for future developments and connect with any of the employers showcased.

2. Join the ESMA coalition

Join ESMA’s coalition of change-makers tackling social mobility to have a more engaged role in helping change and improve social mobility issues contributing to the UN SDG 10. Find out how you can help or join the coalition to make a difference by emailing barry.murphy@pwc.com

There are research groups and coalitions all focused on making a difference in the real world. Our intent is to move beyond research, to opening up new pathways for opportunity. There are many examples of how this can be supported and we welcome the opportunity to explore these with you.

3. Join the next Mission Beyond event

Join Mission Beyond’s Social Mobility event (virtual) on 23rd September 2020 to hear from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, author of Think Outside the Building, and ESMA’s co-founders directly about social mobility, their cause and the importance of collaboration in solving the world’s grandest challenges. Register here: https://missionbeyond.co.uk/events/

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