Social Mobility: Insight Series

Social mobility refers to the facility for movement from one social or economic position to another. Britain has some of the lowest social mobility in the developed world and the financial services
sector is particularly reflective of this lack of equality.

Recent research found that 41% of employees in financial services had parents working in the same sector, against a national average of 12%, and 37% of recent intakes and 60% of leaders were
independently educated – compared to 7% of the school population. As a result, making hiring decisions based on the assumption that the best talent progresses according to their ability and achievement, can transfer advantages to candidates based on their background, rather than their aptitude.

By recruiting narrowly from certain schools and universities, firms risk missing out on a wealth of talent who may not have the traditional credentials associated with future success. But
there are organisations that are innovating for change in their approach to hiring and recruitment policies.

Employers such as Aviva, Barclays and Citi have started to take action at graduate level by removing minimum academic entry requirements and focusing instead on key skills and values. These often take the form of pre-screening online assessments in which candidates play neuroscience-inspired games and tests, or answer specifically designed questions, which allow companies to screen large pools of talent quickly and make smarter hiring decisions.

Other solutions include employing ‘strength’ based interviews. This focuses on a candidate’s interests and what they are good at, which is particularly effective for candidates who may not
have internships or work experience – as traditional ‘competency based’ interviews are based on the assumption that past behaviour will predict future performance. Another reason that employers are beginning to favour strength interviews is that candidates have less opportunity to prepare and rehearse their answers, with the result that interview questions are more likely to bring out the genuine interest, motivation and aptitude of interviewees

Hiring for “culture fit” has also been criticised for reinforcing a lack of diversity, as criteria is generally folded into demographic and socioeconomic factors that can be a broad shield for discrimination. By contrast, hiring for ‘culture add’ puts the emphasis on what a candidate will bring to your culture, and highlights their skills and potential, rather than their academic polish.

There is huge scope for employers to take the lead in promoting social mobility over the coming years, particularly while central government is preoccupied with Brexit and local authorities are
struggling to do more with less following years of austerity cuts.

It is often said that “talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not”. Now many employers are beginning to realise that there is value in changing their recruitment practices to extend opportunity to places it has previously been lacking, for a sector that is elite, not elitist

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