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Recap: In conversation with Ann Francke OBE, The building blocks of social mobility in the workplace

Published: 14 Nov 2022

We recently launched our new ‘Building Blocks Toolkit’, which provides simple, first-step guidance to help businesses and organisations of all sizes, up and down the country, access a wealth of untapped talent and kickstart their socio-economic diversity strategy. 

On 9th November we were delighted to be joined by Ann Francke OBE, Chief Executive of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), as well as Director of the Social Mobility Commission, John Craven. Ann and John discussed the building blocks of social mobility, what leaders can do to boost inclusion and widen opportunities, and how you can go about creating a social mobility strategy. 

If you missed it, you can watch the recording below, and read on for the key interventions you can implement in your organisation. 


1. Recognise that you have a problem, and a responsibility

For organisations just starting out in considering socio-economic background and social mobility, Ann says “the first step is to recognise that there’s a problem.” CMI’s recent Everyone Economy report found that the UK is missing 420,000 managers from working class backgrounds, relative to the working class population. “Often people will say ‘oh, we’ve got that covered, we have an EDI specialist.’ That’s not good enough. It’s not just that person’s job. It’s your job.” 

Employers play a vital role in social mobility, by determining where they set up their business, the types of job roles they create, and finally how and who they recruit and progress. It’s the job of every manager and leader to think about social mobility and be an advocate for diversity within their team. 


2. Don’t fall into the ‘say/do gap’

One of the key findings from CMI’s ‘Everyone Economy’ report was what Ann calls the ‘say/do’ gap. 

When managers were asked ‘is your workplace inclusive of those from lower socio-economic backgrounds?’ 80% said yes. However, when asked to name an active programme they had to recruit, promote or progress employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds, that number dropped to 20%. 

It’s not enough to simply talk about being inclusive. You need to be putting in place strategies to actively encourage the recruitment and progression of a diverse range of staff. 

If you’re not sure where to start, check out the SMC’s Building Blocks Toolkit. It includes recommended interventions on data, culture and leadership, recruitment, and outreach practices, which are designed for organisations new to this, and who are just getting started. 

Even the smallest businesses, and those without large HR departments, will be able to apply many of the recommendations and take their first steps in ensuring their organisation is an environment where all staff can thrive, regardless of background. 


3. Get the data 

Knowing the socio-economic background of your current employees and applicants is an invaluable step to help shape and refine your diversity strategy. “Without the data you’re really not going to get anywhere,” says Ann. 

Data is one of the key building blocks identified in the SMC’s toolkit – as John says, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Without the data you don’t know either the scale of the challenge or the progress that has been made.

It can be difficult to know where to start with collecting this data, but the first step is asking the right question. Fortunately, the SMC has done a lot of work on this, and the right question to ask is in the toolkit! It’s also important to be really clear about why you are collecting this data, and reassure them the data will be anonymous, to encourage people to provide it. 

However, it’s not just about getting the data. “Once you have it, do something with it!” says Ann. She suggests breaking down your social-economic diversity data by quartile, business function and geographic area to find barriers and areas for improvement. She also advises using it to benchmark against other organisations in the area, or in your sector, as well as against other teams. “If another team is way ahead of you – go and talk to that leader, find out what they’re doing!”


4. Look at your recruitment practices 

The recruitment process often presents barriers for those from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds, so Ann suggests assessing “where you look, how you look, what you look for, and who’s doing the looking.”

In her experience, lots of organisations do the same thing when it comes to hiring for entry-level roles – they go out to the top universities and recruit their graduates. However, this can mean missing out on a wide range of diverse talent! 

With the rise of remote working after the COVID pandemic, businesses are no longer as tied geographically to where they recruit talent – as she points out, “we’re all on a Zoom call!” – so try looking in different places. She suggests going to Further Education colleges, not just universities, as well as looking to hire staff from different regions, and particularly from poorer parts of the country. 

Asking for specific qualifications, particularly a degree, can also be a barrier. Before you post a job advert, ask yourself if any qualification you’re asking for is really necessary for the role. Can you assess the skills in another way?

The final step is to consider the hiring process. Use structured interview questions which allow you to directly compare and contrast candidates, to ensure that you’re hiring the most qualified candidates, not just the ones that have most in common with the interviewer.


5. Consider how you promote people

“People often say ‘it’s fine. I’ve recruited a load of people’”, says Ann. However, unless you train and develop those people, and give them opportunities to progress, they will leave and you’ll be back where you started! 

Social Mobility Commission research consistently finds that outreach and hiring practices alone won’t create workforce-wide diversity and those from lower socio-economic backgrounds may face a ‘progression gap’. 

One way to combat this is to build a culture of progression within your organisation by:

  • ensuring managers at all levels are offering training and holding regular career conversations with their staff. 
  • making training a key part of what it means to be an employee and offering appropriate training to all employees, regardless of role or seniority. 
  • be explicit about what experiences and attributes are necessary for progression, making sure promotion is based on skills and experience. 
  • providing stepping-stones of responsibility, especially for frontline staff, to reduce the ‘jump’ between frontline and management. 


We hope you found Ann’s advice as insightful as we did, and you now have plenty of ideas about how to support socio-economic diversity across your organisation. For more advice and guidance on how to make sure your organisation is inclusive of people from all backgrounds, at every level, make sure to check out the Social Mobility Commission’s new ‘Building Blocks Toolkit’.