The second Social Mobility Business Seminar was held on Tuesday 10th March, at the Royal Society of Medicine in central London. As the first event of the fourth year of the UK Social Mobility Awards (SOMOs), in association with Capita, this seminar saw principal figures from across government and businesses convene to discuss strategies for making social mobility an integrated part of how organisations operate.
The seminar began with an introduction of the event from the SOMO’s Founder, Tunde Banjoko OBE, who was then followed by Liz Williams MBE. Liz is the director of Digital society at the BT group, the Chair of Good Things Foundation and a commissioner for the Social Mobility Commission. She spoke about why social mobility was such a prominent problem in today’s society and why it needed to be further investigated and tackled. With experience from her own roles in employment and evidence from data, Liz brought to light the reality of employment inequalities in the UK as she stated that “if you are in a professional job today, you are much more likely to come from a professional background, you are much less likely to come from a working-class background.”
The attendees then heard from the keynote speaker Nadhim Zahawi MP – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – who had also spoken at the Social Mobility Business Seminar in 2019.
Nadhim reinforced the need for the advancement of social mobility and his support for the movement, stating that a “complex problem like social mobility requires cross-cutting solutions, I cannot wave a magic wand, and it cannot be the preserve of one domain. It requires schools, business, regions and government to play their part. And so, I genuinely am so immensely grateful for Tunde and everything he does, for Making the Leap… for all your work.”
This was followed by presentations from the remaining speakers. The first was delivered by Bernadette Kelly CB – Permanent Secretary at the Department for Transport, and the Civil Service Social Mobility Champion.
Most significantly, Bernadette saw that the advancement of social mobility would be impacted hugely if there was a shift in the way we analysed the census reports of employees, especially their socio-economic background as she believes this is a “rich vein of information and data to interrogate about what’s really going on in our departments, agencies and organisations around the country and as a consequence, hopefully it is going to give us a real insight about what we can do to improve social mobility”. Subsequently, Bernadette also went on to reinforce the Civil Services role in this new way of promoting social mobility and making more job roles “less London-centric.”
Next, we heard from Barry Murphy, a Partner at PwC and the project director of the Employers Social Mobility Alliance. Barry highlighted the many advocates of social mobility, and asked “how do we all collaborate more to make an even bigger difference to the issue we’re passionate about?” A response to this, was the Employers Social Mobility Alliance scheme, “the Google/Wikipedia of social mobility.” The aims of ESMA are to “amplify what is already going on in regards to social mobility and make it easier for people to come together”, a strong call to action for other organisations to play their part in the advancement of this movement.
Lastly, we heard an introduction from David Martin, a Partner and Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Linklaters. David spoke about why being involved in the seminar, and with the movement, was so important to him and his organisation: “For a selfish perspective, I want the best people (in the business), and I don’t really mind where they come from because for me, it is about identifying talent and potential. For me, it is about fairness, it is about equality and levelling the playing fields.”
The seminar then moved on to a panel discussion between the speakers, chaired by Tunde. This was a chance for the conversation to become more insightful and candid on how to approach advancing social mobility, as the panellists shared general thoughts and questions with each other.
On the topic of the benefits of organisations pursing the social mobility agenda, Barry Murphy says that the only way an organisation is going to become innovative is “by bringing massively diverse people together. If you don’t have voices from all aspects of the community at an equal rate, you won’t be able to hear what’s going to work for each. Business is supposed to be here for society, not the other way round.”
When questioned on establishing the social mobility agenda at organisations not currently addressing the issue, Liz Williams pointed out that “the first thing is to actually understand what social mobility is” and create awareness and use language that is clear and not divisive but rather inclusive. This is made obvious when Liz added that that when she “became a Commissioner, more than one person asked if social mobility had anything to do with wheelchairs.” This statement was backed up by Bernadette Kelly, who suggested that social mobility is “both misunderstood but also a very challenging subject for organisations… it is not necessarily the easiest thing to embrace.”
David Martin then stressed the importance of data, as “social mobility is not visible” and therefore often very difficult to measure. Focusing on the data, asking questions in regard to people’s background and encouraging people to have an open dialogue about wealth disparities is, to David, a way to create a baseline in the understanding of social mobility and will help highlight areas that need to be improved.
The panel discussion was followed by an interactive Q&A session, providing the attendees with a chance to dig a little deeper into some of the themes addressed by the panel and gain more specific insights. Some key questions asked for the panel to delve into the thoughts on attitudes, values, and racism within organisations, as well as querying them on their own definition of social mobility. After a brief closing statement and a last call to action from Tunde, the seminar came to an end and was followed by networking for the attendees.
The seminar was significant in helping social mobility movement gain significant visibility in its progressive impacts to organisations. It is clear to see the benefits that it brings to businesses and we encourage organisations to join the movement and help advance social mobility – a crucial step forward for the UK.
To find out more about how your organisation can enter this year’s UK Social Mobility Awards or nominate an individual when submissions open on 27th April, the details for submissions can be found here.
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