Extending the boundaries of business impact: Social Mobility

Extending the boundaries of business impact: Social Mobility

A recent webinar hosted by Adam Gates, Head of the Insurance practice at Odgers Interim and Becky Mackarel, Consultant in our Financial and Professional Services practice, looked at how companies can address socio-economic barriers to unlock business performance.

What can we in the corporate world do to elevate and unlock the potential of Social Mobility for business? This big question was the overarching theme of our webinar Extending the boundaries of business impact delivered by Tracey Groves, a Partner at global advisory firm StoneTurn, who has more than 30 years of experience in corporate governance, ethical conduct and behaviours, regulatory compliance, risk assessment, and culture change.

Tracey counsels leaders of complex, global organisations on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) strategies that accelerate growth and innovation, drive ethical conduct and culture, and unlock responsible business performance. She began her presentation by explaining her passion for helping organisations “hardwire doing the right thing into their operating model, into their decision making processes and arguably even more importantly, their behaviours.”

To frame the presentation and subsequent Q&A, we used the UK Social Mobility Commission’s definition of Social Mobility as being the link between a person’s occupation or income and the occupation or income of their parents. Where there is a strong link, there is a lower level of social mobility. Where there is a weak link, there is a higher level of social mobility.

But when persons from low-income families have little chance of moving up while those from well-off families are almost guaranteed to retain their privileged positions, that means “the social elevator is broken”. This has a number of implications. Economically, because business growth is hampered when talent is unable to flourish, but also for overall employee happiness and productivity, with research pointing to a direct correlation between higher levels of Social Mobility and employee health and wellbeing.

Tracey called for much greater vigilance by businesses regarding social elevator issues and said every business had a role to play on the basis that what is good for society, is good for business. She backed up her position with some powerful statistics from The Social Mobility Barometer 2021:

  • Four in five adults (79%) believe there is a large gap between different social classes
  • Three-quarters (74%) of people think there are large differences in opportunities across Britain
  • A third (35%) of adults across the UK believe everyone has a fair chance to go as far as their hard work will take them. Only one in four (25%) people from black and ethnic minority groups believe we live in a fair society
  • An increasing number of people think that employers should have to take action to improve social mobility – 42% in 2021 compared with 31% in 2019. Ethnic minorities are more likely than average to say that employers should act (58%)

These statistics tell us there is still a very long way to go. However, businesses should be motivated to raise their game because Social Mobility can be a strategic tool. According to Tracey, it sits in the “sweet spot” of ESG – which as well all know has rocketed up the corporate agenda – and is core to expanding DEI.

Ahead of the event, we asked participants to answer several topic-specific questions. We are appreciative of those who found the time to take part; your answers were illuminating. They painted a picture of businesses at differing stages in the Social Mobility journey. 10% said they had fully implemented a Social Mobility strategy, while another 10% were at the other end of the scale, having not yet begun. The 80% majority sit somewhere between the two extremes.   

Many organisations need to accelerate their efforts and be clearer on what they are doing to help people from socially disadvantaged backgrounds because the ‘S’ of ESG is only going to increase in importance. Although today 64% of the UN 2030 SDGs are dedicated to social empowerment, most ESG investing inflows are channelled towards environmental solutions.

However, some businesses are in the vanguard of change. For example, over 600 organisations globally have signed up to the Social Mobility Pledge, a commitment to boost Social Mobility through the three pillars of outreach, access and recruitment.

To make change happen, companies must begin by collecting and analysing data. Findings should then inform changes to recruitment policies. “There are so many things that we can do as businesses, to work with educational colleges, institutions and enterprise organisations to think about what we can do to make this a given opportunity for people who otherwise wouldn’t have it,” says Tracey. “We have to set that tone from the very top so that we remove barriers.”

For more information, please contact Adam Gates.


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