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The impact of COVID-19 on social mobility, what employers can do – webinar and panel discussion

COVID-19 is impacting those from lower socio-economic backgrounds more than most. If organisations stop supporting them, the current gap will continue to widen.

On Thursday 23 April and Thursday 7 May, we held a webinar to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on social mobility. It was encouraging to see so many employers attend, across industry. And it means that, despite current challenges, organisations still care about making a difference in this space.

We covered findings from a number of studies, to help you better understand the likely impact on people from more disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, both in education and the workplace. We have highlighted some of the key findings below, but you can find more details in the webinar, together with some helpful tips and advice on what you, as employer, can do to champion social mobility during the pandemic and beyond.

In addition, you can view the follow-up panel discussion held on 29 April, where we were joined by Sandra Wallace​, Social Mobility Commissioner, ​Manager Partner UK & Joint Managing Director Europe at DLA Piper;​ Justine Greening​, Founder of the Social Mobility Pledge, former UK Cabinet Minister; Steven Cooper, ​Social Mobility Commissioner, CEO of C. Hoare & Co; Tony Wilson, ​Director at Institute for Employment Studies, and Rachael Saunders, ​Education Director Business in the Community.

So let’s start with the basics – what is social mobility and why is it important?

‘Social mobility is the link between a person’s occupation or income and the occupation or income of their parents. In other words it’s about ensuring your background doesn’t determine your future’

Outside of COVID-19, social mobility is impacting lives in a fundamental way. It affects access to jobs, earnings, on-the-job training and adult education.

  • 60% of people in professional jobs come from professional backgrounds, while only 34% come from working class backgrounds
  • People from working class backgrounds earn 24% less a year
  • Half of adults from low socio-economic backgrounds have received no training since leaving school

Unfortunately the current situation has furthered widened the opportunity gap.

It has created barriers to education – particular the ‘summer learning slide’, where young people’s progress suffers from a lack of teaching, tutoring or even a quiet place to study. And lack of access to digital learning or capacity of teachers and pupils to study online, has furthered widened the divide.

It has created barriers to employment – as employer engagement at schools, work experience and apprenticeships are shut down due to the pandemic. This may reduce employment chances for school leavers by more than a third.

“Nine million key workers and six million workers in shutdown sectors are bearing the brunt of the crisis” (the Resolution Foundation, Risky Business)

Looking at the job market, 68% of households have experienced a drop in income as a result of COVID-19, with the under 25s having been hit the hardest – they are twice as likely to work in a sector that has been shut down. Other factors, such as housing, also play a part – those in rented accommodation are more likely to be directly affected and unable to work from home, while those that can may be in shared accommodation that isn’t as conducive to home-working.

Why should you care as an employer?

As it turns out, there is a valid business case.

  • Companies that widen their talent pool can increase their competitive advantage – 43% of businesses with more diverse workforces have higher profits.
  • Inclusive teams make better business decisions 87% of the time. And they make decisions twice as fast, delivering 60% better results.
  • Employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds on average outperform their more advantaged peers.
  • Individuals who start their careers via an apprentice scheme are likely to stay longer, reducing recruitment costs.
  • Leading companies such as Channel 4, KPMG and Compass are optimising their workforce for socio-economic diversity. As this becomes the norm, employees may give preference to companies that champion socio-economic diversity as a matter of principle as it reflects a forward-thinking, inclusive ethos.

The webinar gives some useful examples of real-life case-studies to see how individuals have been impacted by COVID-19 and what you can do, as an employer, to help mitigate this.

What measures can employers take?


You can develop or maximise charity/ community partnerships, exploring how to connect with students. You might, for instance, set up ‘remote schemes’ allowing employees to provide digital mentoring or coaching in a safe environment.


You can adapt your processes for online recruitment, and crucially, develop a protocol to recognise unconscious bias. There is a risk some candidates may fail at interview if decisions are influenced by external factors. Even noise can affect a candidate’s chances and put them at an unfair disadvantage, as they juggle child care or share multiple occupancy homes.


You can take this opportunity to review progression pathways or re-design future job roles, by allowing home working to continue once the lock-down has eased or by making flexible hours part of future contracts. This will allow employees who have child care responsibilities or health issues to continue to progress in their careers.

The webinar looks at these areas in more detail and will give you some practical ideas. It also outlines how you can tackle other areas, such as leadership and culture, advocacy and data.


COVID-19 has impacted everyone, but it is clear that those from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds are most at risk of being left behind in terms of education and work opportunities. So this crisis also presents an opportunity for employers to lead the pack in terms of social mobility, ensuring a more diverse, productive and happy workforce going forward. We hope you find the webinar helpful and look forward to your continued support in the social mobility sphere.