Social mobility is more important than ever to business in the UK. Society should enable everyone who is talented and hard-working to excel, but for businesses social mobility initiatives are not just about doing the right thing.

Organisations of all sizes are reporting difficulty attracting and retaining the talent they need. A recent study by Korn Ferry on the Future of Work found that by 2030, in the UK alone, we can expect a talent deficit of three million workers. Finding ways to actively increase the pool of qualified candidates could help invigorate the job market and improve businesses’ financial performance.

There are still barriers which stop young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds accessing top jobs. A report by The Sutton Trust suggests that lack of social mobility may be an increasing problem; only 40% of respondents believe that people in the UK have equal opportunities to get on – a significant decrease from 53% in 2008.

The dividends of diversity

Research by McKinsey has shown that companies with poor diversity suffer. There are financial penalties associated with not developing a workforce from a variety of backgrounds: organisations in the bottom quartile for top-team diversity are 29 percent more likely to under-perform than their peers.

Initiatives which help the socially mobile succeed have rewards for the employer. A varied workforce will bring fresh perspectives and experiences which can lead to more innovative solutions.

It can also help guard against groupthink and improve decision-making processes. Socially diverse organisations have potential to create a more robust team who can engage and understand a wide variety of people, which can be an asset when dealing with customers, clients and market positioning.

Building a diverse organisation without breaking the bank

Addressing social inclusivity provides an opportunity for companies to develop a competitive edge, but putting this into practice can seem daunting, especially for SMEs with less resources available for extensive initiatives and programmes.

But there are lots of effective ways to attract and nurture employees from diverse backgrounds that are not expensive.

Companies can promote social inclusivity by considering whether every position requires academic qualifications. Many entry-level roles do not need to be restricted to graduates. With those from lower socio-economic backgrounds much less likely to attend university, opening appropriate roles up to those without degrees will attract a more diverse range of candidates.

Similarly, work trials for those with aptitude but without traditional experience can give candidates a chance to gain the skills and knowledge they need to excel. Companies which offer apprenticeships or partner with local schools to offer work experience placements are nurturing talent in a cost-effective way.

There are also small adjustments that can be made to the recruitment process which make a big difference to diversity. The socially mobile who are able to attend university are less likely to attend elite institutions, so removing university names from CVs will also help interviewers see the person in front of them rather than the reputation of his or her university.

Keeping job ads clear and demystifying the process – especially for young applicants – will help break down barriers for those who may have had less exposure to the industry and its terminology.

Company culture keeps talent

Efforts to be socially inclusive at the recruitment stage are best when backed by strategies to help the socially mobile succeed once they’re through the door.

The culture within a company makes or breaks diversity efforts. Ensuring the management team lead from the top and communicate their positive attitude towards social mobility initiatives will have a significant impact on maintaining a welcoming environment.

Mentors can also provide expert advice and guidance which helps employees from disadvantaged backgrounds progress in their careers. As a sounding board for any concerns or difficulties, mentors can also help to reduce feelings of isolation.

Follow the leaders

Top companies are switched on to the importance of social diversity in their organisations, with many volunteering to take part in an annual index listing those with the best recruitment practices.

Removing barriers which stop talented young people contributing to their full capabilities not only creates a vibrant and dynamic workplace, but can also add value to a business. Small investments of time and resources provide returns through improved workplace culture, creativity and ultimately financial performance.

Now is the time for every company, no matter its size, to view inclusion and diversity as a competitive advantage, not just an optional extra.



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