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Social Mobility Data Masterclass – why you need to #AskTheQuestion

In our recent Social Mobility Data Masterclass, we explored the importance of collecting data on employee’s socio-economic backgrounds for creating effective diversity and inclusion strategies. You can watch the recording of the Social Mobility Data Masterclass below.

We were joined by Andrew Young, Workforce Diversity Lead at the BBC; Cliff Sale, Social Mobility Programme Lead, at HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC) and Heather Carey, Director, Work Advance on behalf of Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC).

See the presentations from each speaker at the masterclass and read the employer checklist by downloading the Data Masterclass afterpack here.

Three key tips for collecting and using socio-economic data 

1. #AskTheQuestion

In the masterclass we shared the one key question that our latest research has identified employers should use to measure the socio-economic background of their workforce.

The one key question to ask is: What was the occupation of your main household earner when you were about aged 14?

How your employees respond will enable you to categorise them into three categories: those from higher socio-economic backgrounds, intermediate socio-economic backgrounds and lower socio-economic backgrounds. With this overview you can begin to ask why the representation is the way it is in your business and what areas need to be focused on to improve it. You can even assess progression by looking at what representation there is of people from lower socio-economic backgrounds at each level of your business.

You can find clear instructions on what questions to ask here and tips on how to analyse and categorise the data here.

2. Build trust and be open!

Asking someone what their socio-economic background is can seem like a personal question to ask, and some people may not be used to being asked it.

In order to build trust, help employees understand why the question is being asked  – to help get a better picture of the socio-economic diversity in the business. People need to hear a purpose. And the overarching purpose of collecting this data is to make sure you’re supporting social mobility in the UK. Showing employees how it relates to your diversity and inclusion strategy can also help motivate them to respond.

Explaining how the data will be used, who will use it and how it will be kept safe and anonymised is crucial to getting people to feel comfortable responding to the question.

It is important to be clear that the data – the responses given – won’t be used against the people responding in any way.

Cliff Sale, Social Mobility Programme Lead at HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC) advised attendees to find ways to raise awareness of the effort in everyday activities. People at HMRC who have responded to the question are putting the fact they’ve completed it in their email signatures to encourage others to respond.

In the Data Masterclass, Andrew Young, Workforce Diversity Lead at the BBC, shared that they’ve created a staff census to ask the key recommended question above: What was the occupation of your main household earner when you were about aged 14?

This data is held on their HR systems which only a handful of people within the organisation can access. They now collect socio-economic data from new hires entering the organisation. And they’ve recently relaunched the staff census, which is not mandatory for employees, to increase their disclosure rate. Currently around 60% of the business have submitted their socio-economic background by answering the above question.

See more tips on how to increase your response rates here

3. You’ve got the data, here’s what to do with it

Nearly half of the attendees of the Data Masterclass told us they found it challenging to know how to interpret the data once they had it. The speakers were on hand to walk us through the ways they had used the data to inform their strategies.

The data you collect can give you a better understanding of whether people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are finding out about opportunities at your business and how they are progressing within your organisation.

The data can also show you how long people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are staying at your business and even whether they are accessing training opportunities offered within the business. This information will help inform your social mobility diversity and inclusion action plan. And it will allow you to measure progress.

Heather Carey, Director at Work Advance spoke at the masterclass on behalf of Creative Industries Policy and Evidence Centre (PEC) on how they’ve used socio-economic data to explore representation in the creative sector. The data showed them that just 16% of people in creative occupations are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, compared to the national benchmark of 39%. They also found that people from higher socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to hold creative, decision making roles, deciding ‘what goes on the page, on the stage and on the screen’. Based on the data, PEC plans to look at the underlying reasons for this gap and will work with sector leads to suggest and trial policy interventions.

Data helps you see what the diversity and inclusion challenges are and where they are so you can make sure your actions are focused on the right areas for your business. Read our step by step guide on how to interpret data here.

Get started today

It doesn’t matter where you are on your journey towards being a diverse and inclusive business: data is key to establishing where you are and what changes you may need to make to drive change. The data you collect now will serve as a benchmark for measuring progress, and to celebrate any successes along the way.

Resources to get you started and help you go further

Our employers’ toolkit is packed with ideas on what you can do to build a strong social mobility action plan and diversity and inclusion strategy. Each individual section includes tailored guidance, as well as videos that will give you our top tips on the key themes of dataoutreachhiringprogressionculture & leadership and advocacy – enabling you to become a real change-maker in this space.

Hear first hand from the employers on how they have had success collecting socio-economic background data in the video of the Social Mobility Data Masterclass here.

If you’d like to talk directly with someone at the Social Mobility Commission on what you can do in your business to implement a social mobility strategy please email 


*Please note that since this Masterclass took place there has been an update to the socio-economic national benchmarks. You can find the latest break down of the national workforce by socio-economic background here. Use these benchmarks to set targets and inform strategies.