How social mobility relates to the world of business and leadership

Businesses and leaders need to stand up and take action to create a more diverse socioeconomic and ethnically diverse background because graduates like yourselves, don’t just demand equality – they expect it, says Simon Bell

Social mobility is a serious issue for countries and their economy. It is accepted that people’s families and fortunes are major factors in life outcomes. In an ideal world, futures should be controlled by talent and hard work, but unfortunately this isn’t always the case. Social mobility is extremely complex and businesses can play a major role in being part of the solution.

The Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission ranks top firms on the actions they are taking. Employers are big influencers on society and according to the Civil Service, when applying for jobs you’ll see the introduction of questions surrounding candidates’ education and parents’ jobs in the recruitment process. Creating a fair and robust candidate selection process is vital to change the world of business and leadership.

What is social mobility?

Attention to social mobility for individuals and families can help give the ability and opportunity to advance within a society. It can help enable them to reach their true potential in terms of: income, employment, education, place/postcode and perceived social status.

Social mobility is currently a hot topic worldwide. When you’re born into a family on a low income, you’re less likely to have the same opportunities as someone from a more privileged background despite your talent and determination. Business and leaders can be at the forefront of breaking this barrier to improve equality in employment.

Challenging stereotypes

A large gap in social mobility still exists, children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are less than half as likely to achieve passes in English and Maths at GCSE level. Who gets the best jobs is strongly influenced by family backgrounds. This is creating a growing gap in society between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. It not only negatively impacts individuals but also affects economies worldwide. For business, a lack of diverse representation can have a serious impact commercially.

A diverse workforce increases productivity and creativity, which will have a positive impact on the world of business. If your colleagues were all from a similar background and similar universities then there will be no room for challenging perceptions, growth and thinking outside the box to find solutions. Inevitably, a diverse workforce = a productive workforce.

The Global Social Mobility Index highlights how only a small number of nations have the right conditions to adapt to social mobility. These countries include Denmark, who have a social mobility score of 85.2, which is followed by Finland (83.6), Sweden (83.5) and Iceland (82.7). These results were measured by quality and fairness in education as well as ensuring good working conditions and opportunities are available to all.

The results show that governments and businesses must work to level the playing field. Social mobility isn’t about going from council estate to CEO, but it is about helping to make sure career guidance, labour market information and recruitment opportunities are available to everyone. Its focus is all about not having your options limited by lack of opportunities due to your background. Joining forces with people from different environments brings new perspectives and alternative experiences to organisations. Rejecting diversity narrows ideas. Moving away from this can bring a variety of ideologies, therefore, improving access to a diverse range of potential candidates and employees is a necessity for business to reflect society and the markets they service.

How does social mobility make you feel?

It’s often said that class can feel less fluid than gender. It can make you feel stuck and tied down to where you come from. Some of you may be able to relate to social mobility already. Maybe you’ve experienced the difficulty of the journey: what it means to be the first in your family to gain a professional job which is well-paid or to be the first one to secure your place at university. Tackling the challenge of social mobility with innovative insights is vital. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel as more businesses are taking a hands on approach to creating a fairer world of work.

Are you less likely to apply for a position as a graduate if addressing social mobility is not on the hiring organisations agenda? You’re not the only one! According to research from the Graduate Recruitment App Debut, more than a third of young people (35%) within the UK would decline to join a business that is primarily made up of middle and upper class employees.

As many as 80% of people from privileged backgrounds are more likely to end up in a white collar role as opposed to their working class peers. Nearly half of poorer workers haven’t had the opportunity to train since leaving school (49%), in comparison to 20% of the richest adults. This lack of further education or training limits the potential for career progression.

There is a strong correlation between high levels of income inequality and reduced levels of social mobility. If your parents are highly paid then you’re more likely to be highly paid in comparison to children of parents who are poorer or living in child poverty caused by educational inequality.

What drives social mobility?

Education and businesses have the potential to drive social mobility forward. Educational institutes should give equal opportunities to all their pupils regardless of social status. Many universities are working hard to give opportunities to those young people who may have not had anyone in their family attend university. Without this support and advice from parents, a young person is unlikely to think that it is for them. University outreach can help cross this barrier. Gaining higher qualifications can lead to better and more well paid job opportunities.

Schools should provide access to labour market information about where jobs are located and what individuals can expect to be paid. Having this kind of career information can show that some jobs are paid much better than others and it helps young people make a well informed decision on their futures. It can change the direction of career travel and choice of qualification pathways.

Businesses have a key role to play in helping to create social mobility. By ensuring a fair recruitment process with fair opportunities available, regardless of social status and background, they can create a rich and diverse workforce. Having business leaders from a varied background and not just those from money, provides role models and leaders who have empathy with their staff. When adapting this approach employers will start to see a positive approach in dynamic individuals who all have different ways of thinking. 

Looking at what you know now, you’ll be able to see how social mobility relates to the world of business and leadership. Businesses and leaders need to stand up and take action to create a more diverse socioeconomic and ethnically diverse background. Graduates like yourselves, don’t just demand equality they expect it and rightly so.

Simon Bell is the Founder and Director of, an online careers resource for students, graduates, career advisers and teachers. Careermap provides career support, live vacancies and best practice for schools, colleges and universities.

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