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Is your career proposition really for everyone?


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How much does your organisation really know about social mobility? Does the career deal you offer your employees really create opportunities for everyone? And what is the link between the two?

These were just some of the issues raised by our excellent provocateur Lorna Jones, Social Mobility Manager at the Co-op, in our latest Career Innovation Company Virtual Roundtable in September.

The Co-op has recently published its own social mobility report and Lorna shared many fascinating insights from this during her presentation, including:

  • How the Co-op measure socio-economic data, in order to understand the opportunities and barriers they face around social mobility
  • How challenges to social mobility can impact on careers and talent development
  • The hidden barriers to achieving full social mobility in an organisation

The bigger picture

Lorna began our Virtual Roundtable by laying out some stark facts. The UK has one of the poorest rates of social mobility in the developed world. Those born into low-income families, regardless of their talent or hard work, don’t have the same access to opportunities. Employees whose parents held professional jobs are much more likely to be in a professional job themselves. And while only 7% of the UK population are educated privately, nearly 40% of those in top jobs had been to a private school.

With this background in mind, employers clearly have a highly influential role to play in breaking the link between who their current and future employees are – and what they can become.

Data matters

Lorna explained that data and insight has been at the heart of helping the Co-op understand its colleagues’ socio-economic backgrounds in more detail, whether their recruitment is a fair reflection of society as a whole, and whether colleagues from any background feel able to progress and perform to their best ability.

Early insights suggested that the Co-op’s Lower Socio-Economic Background (LSEB) colleagues were both under-represented at senior management levels, and less likely to achieve a promotion or the highest performance ratings.

So working with partners, Making the Leap, the Co-op decided to dig deeply into these challenges, in search of better solutions. In 2022-23, it conducted in-depth qualitative research among its colleagues, leaders, and senior leaders to explore their views and experiences of social mobility, inclusion and belonging.

Three levels of social mobility

The research found three levels of perception of social mobility at Co-op:

  • This was marked by financial and job insecurity, with perceived barriers to career progression. For its LSEB colleagues, working at Co-op did not yet provide them with the building blocks they needed for their social mobility.
  • For this group, there was some level of financial and job security, with more career progression opportunities. While the building blocks for social mobility for this group were in place, their foundations were not fully secure.
  • For this group, there was stronger sense of financial and job security and ample career opportunities. Social mobility had been achieved, with a higher standard of living for this group relative to their parents.

One particularly striking insight from Lorna’s presentation was that the offer of financial security though promotion may not be enough to outweigh the fear of job insecurity. Two of the Co-op’s interviewees made this point:

“I declined [a higher paid job two years ago] … I would have gone up two work bands, so that’s a lot of money. But I was like, well, I’d rather the security of being able to just about pay my mortgage every month rather than get to the point where I can’t.”

“Do you want to progress to the next level? But I think if you go to the next level, I think it’s at that level where you are more at risk of just cutting out the middle management and whatnot.”

The Co-op has not only published its research, but committed publicly to reporting back on its recommendations. These have included career-related commitments, including facilitating more pathways for career progression and ensuring that the related processes are fair and transparent.

Why a careers strategy really matters for social mobility.

When The Career Innovation Company works with a client on a new career proposition, we always ask whether the proposition really is meant for all candidates and employees. If the answer is yes, then the client is, in effect, making a commitment to social mobility, inclusiveness and belonging in the organisation.

In a forthcoming blog, David North, Strategy Consultant at the Career Innovation Company, will show how our career strategy model asks the necessary questions that any business seeking career opportunities for all must answer in the pursuit of social mobility.

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