“It is vital that social mobility is prioritised” – Thoughts from the SOMO 2020 Recruitment Programme Winners, Ashurst

Jun 2, 2021

Over the past year, it has become apparent that tackling the barriers to social mobility and levelling the playing field is the key to ensuring that our economy is built back better. Across all sectors, more and more businesses and organisations are unambiguously recognising the importance of championing social mobility – more than the clear positive societal impact, there are also significant benefits to every engaged organisation.

The UK Social Mobility Awards are celebrating these organisations who are playing vital roles in the advancement of the movement in the UK. From the senior professionals in organisations who are leading by example, to those investing social capital in their local communities, and those contributing to the personal development of future potential employees, these organisations understand the positive results of engagement and the resulting social mobility. The law firm, Ashurst, is a brilliant example this, as they were the winners of the ‘Recruitment Programme of the Year’ award at the UK Social Mobility Awards 2020.

Following their success at the Awards last year, I reached out and spoke to Lloyd Stephenson, the Head of Resources and Work Allocation at Ashurst, to find out a bit more about the great strategies Ashurst put in place to ensure their recruitment practises provided equal opportunities for all, as well as to discuss the impact of winning an award at last year’s event. This article also features quotes from Ashurst’s Alison Hardy, Partner and Head of Real Estate Dispute Resolution & sponsor of the Social Mobility Network, and Emily Burdett, a solicitor’s apprentice.


What did it mean for Ashurst to be recognised for winning the Recruitment of the Year Award in 2020?

Alison Hardy said:

“We are proud that Ashurst is addressing the social barriers to a career in law. Outreach programmes, upskilling and mentoring emerging talent, sponsoring internal talent, legal apprenticeships and graduate programmes are some of the ways we can create a more diverse workforce and ensure that talented young people have the opportunity to succeed within the firm…”

Emily Burdett said:

“Ashurst were the first global law firm to offer the Solicitor Apprenticeship. As a young mother of twins, the university route was not a viable option for me, and the Solicitor Apprenticeship scheme allowed me to pursue my educational and career goals with the financial support I needed for my family.”


Lloyd Stephenson with the trophy

Lloyd Stephenson, the Head of Resources and Work Allocation

What does social mobility mean to Ashurst and how are you incorporating it into your organisation?

“Ashurst is committed to enhancing social mobility across the UK with a focus on addressing barriers to access and support talent. In order to attract and retain the best people from the broadest talent pools, Ashurst recognised the need to ensure our recruitment processes were open and accessible to all, whilst being mindful of specific drivers and challenges.

Ashurst therefore undertook a comprehensive review of the ways in which talent was recruited into the firm. This involved analysing data and insights, as well as qualitative input from the lived experience of people to feedback on assessment and selection methods, in addition to measuring the social impact of the firm’s outreach programme over a two-year cycle. This required strong collaboration between Ashurst’s pro-bono and social impact teams, as well as the early careers team and partner sponsors.

The review showed that there was a disconnect between the firm’s social outreach and apprenticeship / graduate programmes, and that in order to directly address the social barriers into law there needed to be clear alignment between these access points. This led to the introduction of a number of initiatives to not only raise awareness and aspirations, but to also provide support, mentoring and work experience. This included changing the firm’s recruitment criteria to allow a pipeline of diverse talent for the apprenticeships and graduate schemes, in addition to the launch of a newly formed employee network focussed on Social Mobility with champions across the firm to assist in recruitment, mentoring and raising awareness.”


What is next on the social mobility agenda for Ashurst?

“Ashurst is building a careers hub to remove the impact of social capital in our recruitment processes. This will empower candidates to self-educate and perform at their best by understanding the sector and developing their employability skills. The careers hub will also offer virtual work experience.

We are also continuing to train our partners and staff on unconscious bias including socio-economic bias and continuing to raise awareness by profiling Ashurst partners and staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds and providing education for managers on the challenges individuals from non-traditional backgrounds may face. We are doing this by tracking the careers of talent from a social mobility background to ensure there is no adverse impact and establishing a social mobility mentoring programme.”


Why do you think social mobility should be embedded in all UK Businesses?

“Businesses in the UK, specifically the legal profession, have tended to favour and recruit a disproportionate number of individuals from socially and educationally privileged backgrounds. As the welcome focus on diversity and inclusion continues to expand across businesses, it is vital that social mobility is prioritised along with other focus areas.

In order to recruit and retain the most talented people, it is businesses’ responsibility to broaden their talent pools to include those who may not have had access to the traditional routes into the workforce. By tapping into talent from all backgrounds, businesses not only welcome the diverse perspectives and skills that they need to continue to innovate, but they are held accountable for their social responsibility within the communities they operate in.”


Ashurst winning the 2020 award

The team from Ashurst accepting the award at the 2020 virtual gala.

For those organisations who are doing good work for the cause, why would you recommend they enter the SOMOs 2021 and what advice would you give them?

“To ensure that we continue to create meaningful change across businesses, it is important that we do not work in silos. Sharing best practice with organisations is the first step to working together to change the business landscape to be more diverse and inclusive.

Whilst we are proud of the progress we have made within the firm; we acknowledge that more can and should be done. Entering the Social Mobility Awards is a chance to ensure continuous improvement in your business and are a welcome opportunity to celebrate successes but most importantly focus on next steps.”


The nominations for the 2021 Awards are open now. If your organisation has made a commitment to advancing social mobility in the UK, make sure to enter before Friday 25th June and showcase your work. All those who enter will be on the 2021 Honour Roll and will stand the chance of being amongst the finalists and winners of SOMOs 2021.

Register here.


Follow the UK Social Mobility Awards on social media for all the latest news and updates.

The UK Social Mobility Awards is a fundraising initiative for the registered charity, Making The Leap.

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