On Tuesday, 19th March at the Law Society in Central London, executives from across business and government gathered together for the Social Mobility Business Seminar, sponsored by Milkround. The seminar presented a crucial opportunity for organisations to discuss strategies for making social mobility an essential part of how organisations are run in the UK, while also signalling the launch of the UK Social Mobility Awards, in association with Capita, for their third year.
After an initial introduction by the Founder of the UK Social Mobility Awards, Tunde Banjoko OBE, the attendees heard from Georgie Brazier, Marketing Manager of seminar sponsor Milkround, on why being involved in this seminar was so to her business: “The social mobility awards are so important for recognising how companies are tackling issues and changing their processes to enhance social mobility in the workplace… We can use today to share strategies, learn and talk about the amazing work already taking place.”
Next at the lectern was Professor Anthony Heath, Director of the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, compilers of the case studies for the UK Social Mobility Awards. Professor Heath was effusive in his praise of the awards and the research material that their submissions represented.
Significantly, he was adamant that real advancement of social mobility will come from a shift in how we work: “Business practices are going to determine what happens to young people. The UK Social Mobility Awards are particularly important for putting the emphasis on recruiters.” Similarly, he bemoaned the talent drain that a socially immobile society creates: “There is a wastage if you recruit people on the basis of your social background compared to ability to do the job.”
The keynote speech was delivered by Nadhim Zahawi MP – Parliamentary Undersecretary for Children and Families – who, having also spoken at the UK Social Mobility Awards 2018 reception, doubled down on his support for the movement:
“Together we have the potential to not just transform the outcomes of those who have previously been left behind; we can change the direction of this country and I really think that we can build a nation where everyone can make the most of themselves. Creating opportunities for young people to get on in life is a shared responsibility, so it’s heartening to see the UK Social Mobility Awards and this Business Seminar recognise the variety of initiatives going on in the business world targeted at improving social mobility.”
The seminar then moved on to the panel discussion, which was moderated by Tunde. On the panel were: Yasmine Chinwala, Partner, New Financial LLP; Sarah Moore, Deals People Partner, PwC; Matthew Coats, Director General for EU Exit Implementation, Cabinet Office; and Steven Cooper, CEO, C. Hoare & Co and Commissioner, Social Mobility Commission.
The discussion began with some general thoughts on how to approach advancing social mobility with Yasmine Chinwala keen to stress the importance of statistical analysis: “Start by looking at the data around your organisations diversity and work out why it is important to you.”
This was backed up by Sarah Moore, who added: “We should reflect with optimism about both progress to date, plus the shared desire and potential to make progress in the future. If you show where the gap is and make a commitment to close it, you can do it.”
On some of the challenges facing organisations advancing social mobility in ‘cold spots’, Steven Cooper advocated for a tailored approach: “It’s about organisations understanding what the specific issues are, what their needs are, and how to solve them.”
Addressing some of the other challenges facing the advancement of social mobility, Yasmine stressed the importance of looking within and picking apart the ‘meritocracy myth’: “It makes you acknowledge some things about yourself that can be difficult – luck and serendipity also play a part in success. But that’s why it is such an important conversation.”
The conversation will eventually be worth it, as Steven confirmed with his own example: “Social mobility is good for business because it really enhanced our brand, far more than advertising our products.” Reinforcing this, Matthew Coats summed up the discussion by stating, “Employers can make a big difference on this agenda and it’s in everyone’s interests to do so.”
The panel discussion was followed by an interactive Q&A session, providing the attendees with a chance to dig a little deeper in to some of the themes addressed by the panel and gain more specific insights. After some brief closing statements, the seminar came to end but there was a tangible sense in the room of the social mobility movement gaining significant momentum. The business benefits of socially mobility are clear to see, now we must ensure all organisations are doing what they can advance the cause.
Organisations are encouraged to enter or nominate an individual when submissions open on 29th April. Details for submissions can be found here.
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