Philanthropy Impact

Inspiring philanthropy and social investment across borders, sectors and causes

How Businesses can Increase Social Mobility

What follows is a blog on an event organised by Philanthropy Impact 11 December 2018 about the future of work.

How Businesses can Increase Social Mobility

Event report
I was recently very flattered to be asked to speak on a panel on ‘The Future of Work’ hosted by Philanthropy Impact, The Peter Jones Foundation and The Sage Foundation at The Shard on 11th December. 
 
The aim of the evening was to explore how business and philanthropy can play a vital role in developing skills and securing success for the future workforce. From Brexit to Artificial Intelligence, increasing income inequality to severe skills shortages – both the workforces of the UK and the global economy face several challenges. This exceptional evening, chaired by Michael Hayman OBE, was a chance to think about some of these issues and what we can all do to tackle them.
 
For my section I was keen to focus on social mobility, the entry level talent market and some of the still existing (and horrific) examples of how dysfunctional and unjust that market remains. These statistics tell the worrying story of where we are as a country:
 
  • Only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high-income earner as an adult (BBC)
  • The wealthiest 20% of families were typically earning 30% more than the remaining 80% of the graduate population, a decade after they left university (BBC)
  • 7 in 10 employers think students need to do more to prepare themselves for work (CEB)
  • Only 1 in 6 employers say graduates have the skills and knowledge they are looking for (CEB)
  • Privately educated pupils will, on average, earn £200,000 more than state educated pupils by the time they reach 41 (Independent)
  • One third of graduates are in jobs that don’t require a degree (HESA)
However, whilst statistics show the scale of the problem, the personal impact of the issues at hand were brought to life in the responses to Bright Network’s survey of 3,000+ graduates ‘What Graduates Want’. When asked ‘What’s the worst piece of careers advice you’ve received?’ – these are some of the responses that our members reported back:
 
- ‘As a black female, it's going to be extremely hard for you to be a successful lawyer.’
- ‘A woman like you would probably get eaten alive in the banking industry, I'd suggest you set your sights
   on teaching’
- ‘You will never study at that university because of your background, so stop dreaming about it.’ 
- ‘You shouldn’t study economics because you're a girl.’ 
- ‘Being pretty will get you places.’ 
- ‘If you don't understand what the person is saying, just smile and nod.’
- ‘You don’t look the type to do this role’
- ‘I shouldn’t become an engineer – because as a woman I wouldn’t be strong enough to carry the tools’
- ‘Flirt with the male interviewers’
 
It really is almost unbelievable that in 2018 such poor careers advice is still being given to our young people. However, there is good news for graduates - at any one moment there are ~70,000 unfilled graduate level vacancies in the UK. It is nevertheless crucial that these roles are efficiently matched to the graduate talent pool, and that the graduates we’re producing as a country know about all the potential roles they can do when they leave university. 
 
We discussed as a panel about what businesses can do to alleviate these challenges – here are some of the things that came up:
 
1) Offering Paid Internships. Roughly 50% of graduate roles go to candidates who have already interned at these organisations, so the more businesses can open their doors and offer (paid) internships, the better for social mobility as candidates get a chance to experience organisations first hand. 
 
2) Mentoring. Businesses can encourage their staff to mentor graduates with their applications to support young people into the world of work. 19% of graduates cite a lack of contacts and connections as the biggest barrier to them pursuing any career path, so the more firms can create these connections, the better.
 
3) School and Campus Talks. Businesses can encourage their staff to go and do short talks at local schools and university campuses to share insights into how to break into their industries. Not only does this drive social mobility, it also drives employee engagement. 
 
The panel also discussed how the more businesses can act in an ethical and responsible way (for example by not engaging in tax avoidance), the more likely they will be to attract the best staff – a firm’s people and culture is the most important thing graduates look at when deciding what role to apply for.  
So, whilst there are multiple current challenges around social mobility and the world of work, the good news is that there are lots of things we, and the organisations we work for and engage with, can do to combat them.
 
For further information go to: www.employers.brightnetwork.co.uk/