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Recap: Data - Addressing the challenges and understanding the opportunities


Many employers are starting to collect the socio-economic background alongside other diversity data and as an employer, data can be one of the most important tools an employer has to understand and improve the diversity in their workplace, including social mobility.

We know from discussions with many employers, that socio-economic data remains their biggest challenge. During our recent Masterclass on 26th October, Paula Kemp, our Head of Employer Engagement, was joined by Hollie Crompton from PwC where they discussed what employers should look to collect; how they might build an engaging narrative to encourage colleagues to share their personal data; and what the data could be used for to improve social mobility within their workforce.

Don’t worry if you missed it – you can find the full recording below, and read on for Hollie’s tips on starting or improving your data collection.


What data should you collect?

The Social Mobility Commission guidance recommends the key question to ask your applicants, apprenticeships and workforce is “What was the occupation of your main household earner when you were aged about 14?”.  

In fact, a poll of the participants of the masterclass showed that 55% of those who did collect social mobility data already asked this question of their employees. There are then a number of additional questions that could be asked (to provide further analysis) depending on the position of the employee on the employee lifecycle – like the question on type of school attended or were they recipients of free school meals (FSM) but the predominant question remains ‘parental occupation’. 

Hollie recommends when starting out to look at what data you already have – have you already been gathering some of this data through recruitment and can this be easily moved onto your HR system? She would recommend looking at the guidance and thinking about whether you are going to ask just the key question or do you want to ask all four? Hollie also recommends educating your workforce on these questions and what they measure – so they understand what these questions are a measure of: social mobility; extreme economic disadvantage; or cultural and economic advantages.  

It is imperative that, however you collect it, you think of a way that you can transfer it into your HR system – this will provide you with richer information to take and make decisions.  


Don’t think of it as data collection, think of it as a comms campaign

With the obligation to share this personal data resting entirely on the individual (it’s not mandatory), encouraging colleagues to share can be an uphill struggle and you should not expect to see your response rates jump overnight.  

However, both Paula and Hollie agreed that this should not be seen as a data collection project, rather an ongoing communications campaign that creates the right environment in which colleagues will want to share their information.  

Hollie told us that on their journey to improving their response rates from 25% to 80% the one key driver for them was to consistently ask themselves ‘how are we going to encourage people to answer it’. They realised that a lot of colleagues didn’t know what social mobility was, and why it’s important  – and if that is the case, they are unlikely to see a reason to share their data.  

Tried and tested methods to improve response rates included:

  • Sending a firmwide email from the Leadership team
  • Sharing personal stories and role models – profiling people at all grades, in all roles and different offices.
  • Highlighting how it sits alongside all other personal characteristics and forms the wider discussion around inclusion.  
  • Made it part of the conclusion to their mandatory diversity and inclusion training – along the lines of ‘you now understand why D&I is important to us, please share your data to help us monitor our effectiveness’
  • Being consistent – don’t just ask for it once a year – think about the opportunities of when you can ‘remind people’ to share their data, like after an event talking about social mobility.
  • Think about how you frame it.  Asking people to ‘disclose’ their data may have negative connotations – traditionally you ‘disclose’ something that you may not want to be known in public (like disclosing any CCJs or driving offences).  ‘Sharing’ personal information sounds more collaborative.  

Paula highlighted that employers need to be patient and accept it may take some time to get to a good response rate – after all employers have been collecting data on other characteristics for a longer period of time.  

It’s easy to think that people find it more intrusive than other diversity questions, but research does not back this up – it’s likely that we have just been conditioned to think it acceptable to be asked about our religion or sexual orientation in the workplace. Ten years ago, those questions would’ve also seemed intrusive.  


Ensure there is absolute clarity on why you are collecting the data

Your comms campaign should help colleagues understand why you are collecting the data – you need to talk about how you are looking ensure that you have a diverse and inclusive workplace and that asking these questions are a way of helping you to understand the make-up of your organisation and to help you address any challenges and create opportunities for a wide range of talent.  

Hollie says that at PwC colleagues can see that ‘improving social mobility is really linked to our organisational purpose and we reassure people on how its going to be stored, how it is going to be used to make it a fairer place to work and that is is not going to be used to make individual promotion or recruitment decisions.  Our colleagues are seeing now how our D&I data is playing a powerful role in identifying key issues and trends among the workforce which we can start to address.  

Paula highlighted it was important that everyone is made aware that the data will be aggregated, used anonymously and never to form the basis of individual decisions, citing a recent conversation where a parent of a student applying for apprenticeships was worried that responding to these questions would have detrimental consequences for their child’s application.  Any organisations working with young people need to ensure parents and educators, as well as the student, are made aware that these questions are being asked to  monitor the diversity of applications and it will not impact individual outcomes.  


What do you do with the data once you have it?

One participant on the call pointed out that their organisation was good at ‘gathering’ the data, but were then unsure what to do with this data. This is a common issue within organisations – what to do with the data and to interpret what it is telling you.

Hollie suggests that getting to about a 60 to 70% response rate gives you enough data to be able to make a meaningful analysis. However, that shouldn’t prevent you from taking meaningful action to support social mobility before you reach those rates. PwC work with Access Accountancy, a programme designed to improve access to the accountancy profession for young people long before they knew the socio-economic make-up of their workforce.

Paula advises that organisations should consider the data along the employee lifecycle – what does it tell you about the interest in your organisation in terms of who is looking to join? Who do you recruit and just as importantly who isn’t successfully navigating the recruitment process? What are the outcomes for all backgrounds when reviewing  performance, pay, progression; and, just as importantly, who is leaving the organisation? Once you have a holistic view of what is going on, you can dive deeper into ‘the why’?

PwC has looked at their data by grade and business areas – some of this has highlighted that there is a wider representation of socio-economic backgrounds in the more junior levels than at senior management and director levels, and they have been working on a project with University College London about impact on careers at PwC. They will look at this in more detail with some qualitative research with  Britain Thinks and King’s College London which will inform their updated social inclusion strategy for next year. Making use of the analyst they have in their organisation, they undertook some statistical flow rate analysis to predict what would happen if they did nothing vs where they want to be – enabling them to understand what is realistic and achievable and enabling them to set targets by grade for the first time.