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Employer blog: Increasing social mobility through management and leadership culture

Socio-economic inclusion is not solely the domain of big corporate businesses with large HR departments. It’s about helping businesses and organisations of all sizes, up and down
the country, to access a wealth of untapped talent. Don’t worry if you are only just getting started with this agenda – even the most inclusive employers need to start somewhere!

As part of our celebration of National Inclusion Week, we published our Building Blocks Toolkit, which provides simple, first-step guidance to help you kickstart your socio-economic diversity strategy, including recommended interventions on data, culture and leadership, recruitment, and outreach practices.

Having an inclusive organisational culture can be a significant force in shaping and creating a successful workforce and organisation. Ahead of our ‘In Conversation’ event next week, we spoke to Ann Francke OBE, Chief Executive at Chartered Management Institute (CMI) about what practical actions employers can take to boost workplace inclusion.


“Through CMI’s experience of working with organisations and regularly engaging with our members, we know how important managers are in tackling workplace inequality. In 2021 and 2022, we set out to explore this in more depth.

In June we published a major report, The Everyone Economy – outlining our plan for sharing work, opportunity and success.

To inform this work, we gathered evidence from CMI’s global community of managers and leaders, as well as our specially-convened 75th anniversary Advisory Council.

The socio-economic management gap

Our conclusion? There is still work to do to maximise the talent that lies within the UK economy. Our research revealed a large deficit of managers from lower socio-economic backgrounds – if we are to represent the UK’s working population, we need 420,000 more managers from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Everyone, regardless of their background, should be able to achieve their full potential in the workplace. This isn’t just a moral issue – a solid body of evidence makes the positive business and economic case for diverse teams and inclusive working cultures.

And while 83% of managers told us that their organisation is inclusive of all staff regardless of socio-economic background, the evidence suggests that many are not walking the walk when it comes to inclusivity. 

Over a quarter (28%) believe that socio-economic background is a barrier to being recruited into senior leadership and entry level roles. And one in three respondents thought socio-economic background was a barrier to progression at executive level and 31% at middle management level.

Unfortunately, the use of targeted initiatives that might help improve inclusion at work is low. For example, 80% of respondents said their organisation either did not capture the socio-economic background data of applicants during the recruitment process, or they did not know if their organisation collected this data. And only 26% of respondents said their organisation was taking active steps to increase the proportion of employees from a lower socio-economic background through recruitment practices.

What action can employers take? 

The Everyone Economy identified a whole suite of actions that employers can be taking to boost workplace inclusion:

  • Data. Often the first step is to improve the quality of data to boost transparency and uncover barriers at work. There are specific challenges for SMEs but this data can be proportional to the size of your organisation. Start by looking at the background of current, new and unsuccessful applicants to identify any patterns of bias.
  • Identifying and attracting talent. For example, clearly communicate promotion and progression criteria, champion the use of a variety of methods to advertise jobs to attract a wider pool of talent and implement a process for structured interviews in recruitment and promotion.
  • Realising people’s full potential. Create learning and development programmes which can open up opportunities. For example, apprenticeships are a fantastic way of diversifying the management profession – 39% of CMI management apprentices are from a low socio-economic background. 

At the heart of boosting inclusion and widening opportunities is good management and leadership. 

Skilled managers are key to unlocking opportunities at work – through training, stretch projects, recruitment, promotions and salary rises. It therefore makes sense that we should be developing these skills.

These should be seen as core, transferable skills that can enable individuals to access good work and improve their employability, as well as benefiting others. These are skills such as communication, team working and problem solving.

The Everyone Economy is just the start of our work in this area and we will continue to raise awareness of inequalities at work and to make the case for how good management and leadership is critical to changing the conversation – with positive results for not only employees from all backgrounds, but also for the companies that employ them.”