Show 95 – Social Mobility Update 2019/20

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“Inequality is still deeply entrenched in Britain. There is a persistent gap in early literacy, the attainment gap at the end of secondary school has hardly shifted since 2014, and the better off are nearly 80% more likely to end up in a professional job than those from a working-class background.” – Social Mobility Commission’s State of the Nation Report for 2019

This episode was produced in partnership with the UK’s Ministry of Justice, where the topic we discussed was Social Mobility, specifically looking at creating opportunities in the workplace.

This was the third year running that we’ve worked with the Ministry to focus on this important topic and Russell Goldsmith’s guests in the studio, this time around, were:

Plus, we also heard from Dr Helen Jenkins, Managing Partner at economists, Oxera about a research project her company carried out on behalf of the Sutton Trust, a charity seeking to increase social mobility through educational opportunity.

guests in studio

L-R: Pete Lawrence, OBE; Margaret Gibson, OBE and Shaun McNally CBE in the studio with host Russell Goldsmith

To kick things off, Shaun gave us an update on what’s been achieved over the last 12 months with regards to the Ministry’s Social Mobility Action Plan.  He said that in that time, the Ministry has tried to build upon the progress and the foundations that have been laid in previous years. They now have a three-year strategy and are looking at that and using it to think about how they engage with young people and with schools, and how people can see that there is an opportunity for them across the Civil Service. They have now engaged with over 60,000 young people within schools from lower socio-economic backgrounds, but Shaun said that it’s not just about encouraging people to see that there’s an opportunity within the Civil service for them. It’s also enabling people who are in their organisation to be able to see that there’s opportunities for them to progress, to see that the Ministry of Justice is an inclusive organisation that embraces talent and that people aren’t defined upon where they start off in life and they’re not limited by their social background. Shaun believes that Bernadette Kelly [Permanent Secretary, Department for Transport, Civil Service Social Mobility Champion] has been amazing in the work that she’s done to build the Social Mobility Cross-Government Network and he added that it has been a fantastic thing to see. Finally, he added that they have had external accreditation for the work that they’ve done by, for the second year, being listed in the top 10 of the Social Mobility Employer Index, plus they also were recognised as the organisation of the year at the 2019 UK Social Mobility Awards.

In terms of why this topic is so important to our other studio guests, Margaret said it’s because she has lived experience. Margaret explained that she grew up in an area of social housing with a lot of poverty around her. She grew up in a household that had lots of love, but not very much money and her parents didn’t have a lot of education, but they encouraged her sister, brother and herself to do the best they could at school. However, in Margaret’s social sphere, she didn’t know anyone who had a professional background or who had a career. She said that you took a job and that’s what you did and so that lack of role model, aspiration, self-confidence and awareness was quite startling at times and she feels that the young people that she works with through EY Foundation still have those challenges.

Similarly, Pete said that his background upbringing is not one that people would usually associate with a senior civil servant. He didn’t have the opportunity of sixth form and university. Encouragement was to go out there and get a job and earn some money. He agreed with Margaret that talent is all around us, but the opportunity hasn’t generally been. He thinks that’s where his background and experience is driving him in his current role, to try and make a difference to people. His aspiration, when he joined the civil service thirty-eight years ago was pretty low.  He felt that perhaps as an AO [Administrative Officer], to maybe get to HEO [Higher Executive Officer] would be great. As he progressed, he could see actually what he had to offer was no different to anybody else – they just had some bits of paper with qualifications on. And so over time, he got to the point where his confidence has built and due to the role he is now doing, is about to try and make a difference to people like him and to give them opportunities to come and join, knowing what it’s really like.

Shaun added that it is really inspiring to hear Pete’s and Margaret’s stories and they resonate with his own. He thinks that one of the things that they, as leaders, really can do is share their stories so people can see that the opportunity exists for them.

Margaret agreed.  She thinks that talent is universal, but opportunity isn’t. And as leaders, one of the biggest rules she thinks you have is to look behind you and to give, not handouts, but hand ups, and that’s a really important part of leadership.

Pete said that he is using that experience through Civil Service Live, where he has stood up, quite bravely he felt, and talked about his own background in a room full of lots of people and he thinks that’s the right thing to do.

Shaun thinks that in terms of that, it’s also being honest about their own self-limiting beliefs. So, referring to the background that he came from, he didn’t see that there was opportunity there. He had the talent, but it took somebody else to see something in him that he didn’t actually see in himself and encourage him to lift his head up and to look out and beyond his frame of reference.

Margaret also thinks that whole concept of coaching or mentoring people is really important. She had the qualifications when she finished school to go to university but was too frightened and ended up going to polytechnic and doing a national diploma, which she said she had no regrets in doing. However, she feels that at that point, someone could have coached, encouraged or shown her it was possible, but she just didn’t have that self-confidence to do it.

Pete added that even six or seven years ago, he felt haunted by not having a degree compared to his peers and so having an executive coach as part of a series of training that was happening in the Cabinet Office at the time, that he has continued with, has made a massive difference. So, he feels that just having somebody that helps you to see what you can offer is brilliant.

One of the key components of the strategy within the Ministry of Justice for Shaun is the Catapult Mentoring Program, which to date, mentors over 530 people from across the organisation. He said that it’s probably one of the most diverse groups of people that they have mentored and looks across all of intersectionality and other issues. However, the benefit of it is that it is helping people to see that there is opportunity available for them. He also added that as well as coaching and mentoring, it’s also about actively sponsoring people and being a voice for them until they’re able to have their voice heard, which Margaret agreed on. I think that’s so important. She said that you should be the voice for the people you look after in a room when they’re not there. You should be talking about the great work they’ve done and the impact that they’ve had on your business.

Why are we still having this conversation?

The Social Mobility Commission’s a State of the Nation report for 2019 stated that “Social Mobility has stagnated over the last four years, virtually all stages from birth to work. Being born privileged in Britain means that you are likely to remain privileged and that being born disadvantaged means that you may have to overcome a series of barriers to ensure that your children are not stuck in that same trap”.

Shaun thinks that there has to be a recognition that this is really hard. It’s breaking down some of the structures and some of the behaviours that have stood the test of time. He thinks that it is important for leaders to really embrace the conversation, to change people’s hearts and minds and through the actions in the strategic work that they do, to work with others. So, working with EY Foundation and through the work that the Civil Service Commission is doing, he said that they can start to change and move things forward. But it is going to take time. The people that they are engaging now are going to be the leaders of the future and he added that they will be the leaders of the organisation long after he has gone! He thinks that it’s inter-generational in terms of the changes. But to his mind, Shaun thinks there is now a real realisation that for organisations to be truly inclusive and representative of society at every level, things need to change.

Pete agreed and said that if he thinks about his own experience with his son, he has worked hard to try and give him a better start than he had, which he said seems to have worked quite well.  But he wants to try and do that for other people. So, he does quite a lot of mentoring now of younger people both in and outside of the Civil Service.

Margaret said that there isn’t a magic result or a magic answer on how to solve poverty, but she thinks we have to go younger people and look at what happens in primary schools and how you can actually demonstrate the opportunities that are available by using things like their opportunities to take people in like her, Shaun and Pete, who have who’ve had similar backgrounds, to talk about what their careers have been like, what opportunities they have had and what challenges they have faced. She thinks they have almost missed the boat if they start talking about people just as they’re joining the workforce – they have to go much younger.

Shaun thinks that they have to embrace it and look at it both in terms of younger people, but also for the people who are in the organisation. He said that the Ministry of Justice employs around about 70,000 people and there’s over 400,000 across the Civil Service. There are people working in their organisations who have incredible talent and they need to harness and help them see and be able to release that as that will bring diversity of thought, drive better outcomes and enable them to be more efficient and more effective. Therefore, by sharing their stories and through recognition of the Employers Index and the Social Mobility Awards, they have the opportunity to reach out and learn from other organisations and to create a movement for change.

Margaret agreed.  She thinks that the whole collaboration piece means that you become a part of almost a committed army of people who are all pointing in the same direction and recognising that, for people that maybe didn’t have the confidence or the opportunity to go to university at a certain age, they can do it in their 30s, in their 40s and their 50s. She said that allowing employees to do that sort of thing builds towards a much more confident workforce. Despite not going to university when she was younger, she ended up going when she was 48 years old – she went back to university and still worked full time. What that meant was she felt that it helped her own children. She showed it is possible she thinks that’s really important as well for colleagues.

According to the report, those from working class backgrounds who are successful in entering professional careers, earn, on average, 17% less than their more privileged colleagues.

In response to this, Pete said that in his experience, which is limited to the Civil Service, he thinks there are two issues here.  Firstly, which he thinks is less of an issue in the Civil Service, is that historically, what has made the difference is those promotion trajectories as those with a more privileged or more supportive background had the access to education that’s available and so have that competence to go forward.  He added that within the civil service, the panels interviewing those people in the past would probably have an inbuilt unconscious bias and they’d be recruiting in their own image and so, that must have a large part to play within that. However, Pete believes that they now understand so much more about it and are doing a lot of things to counteract those types of issues that they are facing. And so, including all the work that

Margaret agreed with the issue of unconscious bias and thinks that we have become more conscious of it. However, she also thinks that it links back to having the self-confidence to ask for a pay rise or to challenge when you’re offered a salary increase – if you can give examples of the really great work that you’ve been involved in. But she believes the lack of self-confidence holds people and organisations.

Shaun added that there are some real things that can be done to start to address this, with the Civil Service Commission’s help, for example, blind recruitment – effectively taking away details about the individual.  He also made the point of the disadvantage those people coming to interviews have who can’t see somebody like themselves.

Civil Service Commission

Pete explained that the Civil Service Commission is an independent regulator, so independent of the Civil Service and Government. It regulates employment into the Civil Service, and he explained that there’s legislation that states that you can’t be a civil servant unless you have been employed on merit following a fair and open competition.

He said that the commission is aiming to change the playing field so that people with barriers in their life mean they can overcome the hurdles that the Civil Service has previously put up for recruitment. They have developed an exception to that legislative rule that says a department can come to them and say, could you accredit program that allows them to work with ex-offenders or veterans to bring them into the civil service through a different route.  Departments can then employ individuals for a period of up to two years on a fixed term appointment, which does two things:

  1. Gives a real enhancement to someone’s CV and some of the schemes – their aim is that the majority of the schemes then offer full-time, long-term employment going forward. So, people working in that way get the experience, understand how the process works and can start to apply for external vacancies.
  2. Allows somebody at the more junior grades to be made permanent from one of these schemes, if after twelve months they’ve demonstrated that they can meet the normal performance criteria within the annual performance appraisals

Pete said those benefiting from these schemes range for from ex-offenders to veterans, people leaving care, those with Down syndrome, autism, or have a barrier to normal processes. He added that it is going really well. For example, the ex-offender scheme was the first one that they ran, which started in late 2017 and by March 2019, it had 19 people on the scheme. At the time of recording, Pete said there were 25, with at least another dozen more vacancies that they were working with and so by Christmas 2019, he was hoping it would reach 40 – and that’s just one scheme across all departments.

Shaun had first-hand experience of working with the scheme.  When he was Chief Executive of the Legal Aid Agency, they employed an ex-offender within the team and Shaun said that that person had been absolutely brilliant – they had been committed, passionate about the work. He said that they had made one mistake in their life but they shouldn’t be defined by it.

Shaun thinks there is going to be a challenge because people believe that behaviour begets behaviour, but he believes that if somebody has recognised that a mistake has been made and is committed to changing their life, then with support, we can make a real difference. He said that person is less risky to the organisation. because they know and the organisation knows, but people around them don’t know. So, the team does not know the route by which this person came into the organisation and it’s right that that should be the case.  It’s a case of the person thinking that they have been given a second chance now and want to take full advantage of it.  Shaun said that he is humbled by the stories that he hears about how that person is really making a positive impact within the organisation. First class. Brilliant. A great person who he would move heaven and earth to retain within the team.  He also cited Timpson as a company doing good work in this space and thinks that it is for leaders of organisations to embrace the opportunities of bringing talented people in who perhaps because of life choices at a particular point in time made a mistake but don’t need to be defined by it.

EY Foundation

Margaret explained that EY Foundation work with a lot of schools where there’s a very high percentage of young people on free school meals, which is an indicator of living in poverty.  She said that this is mirrored in the lack of social capital that that young person may have. EY Foundation runs a lot of employability workshops across the country where they will take various employer partners into the schools with them to talk about the roles that there may be available in their workplace as well as their own career journeys. They also run intensive programs over the summer period where it is paid for work experience, covering lunches and travel expenses as well, because a lot of internships are not available to young people from poverty as they do not take them up because they can’t afford to. It’s something as simple as not being able to afford to get to the office or having money to buy an outfit to wear in the office – the small barriers that actually can make it even more difficult for young people to get involved.

Shaun said that he has seen first-hand a cohort of people who have come in through the program. He said that that you can see how they are at the beginning and contrast that with how they are at the end of the program to see how their confidence has grown, how they can identify and recognise that there is a place and they can achieve more than what they believed at the beginning of the program. It is transformational.

Margaret think that there is a combination of reasons why the programs that they run work so well and help build aspiration and attraction.

  • They allow young people to meet other young people from different skill backgrounds, but they bond because they recognise their social backgrounds are very similar and support each other in that concept.
  • They put them through a Chartered Management Institute qualification, which helps them to stand out a little from other qualifications they may get through school.
  • They are allocated a mentor who works with them for a year and can help just be a listening ear, but also help to put a CV together or on a job application or write a personal statement for university. The mentor might be the only person that really focuses on the needs of that young person and it’s a safe place for that young person to talk to someone that really deeply cares about them.

Shaun also focuses on the mentoring programme and said that they have over 900 ambassadors across the department who they give of their time for school visits, career fairs or helping people with their personal statements or job applications.

Pete added that that’s true across a number of the schemes that they have accredited. So, the Department of Work and Pensions, for example, run an admin officer social mobility scheme, part of which is about having a qualification at the end of it, which is important for people where they’ve probably not done the right things at school, got distracted, or realised when it’s too late when they’re about to do the exams that they should have taken a different approach. However, this helps to reset that because very often employers will look at the most recent qualification and particularly in the future, what they want is something that is relevant to the work they want to do.

Shaun said that they are also working with universities to help and support people in terms of justice origins and other work that they are doing plus have internship programs that they offer for people within the Ministry of Justice.

Oxera & The Sutton Trust

Within the show, we also heard from Dr. Helen Jenkins, Managing Partner at economist’s Oxera, who recently carried out some research on behalf of the Sutton Trust, a charity seeking to increase social mobility through educational opportunity.

Dr Helen Jenkins of Oxera

Helen started by sharing what the research told us about the economic benefits of social mobility.  She said that the work that they did with Sutton Trust was targeted at getting an estimate of what the benefits to society more broadly are of social mobility.

Helen thinks that we all understand that better social mobility has some intrinsic positive value to ensure that people have opportunities and can make the most of those through their lives. But the research that they did showed that improving social mobility is more than just a matter of social justice. Creating the opportunity for talent across the social spectrum to be recognised, developed and utilised can improve productivity for an economy as a whole. She said that this is because, in a society where education and employment opportunities are largely determined by an individual’s family background rather than their actual skills and talents means that you don’t get the best available people matched to those opportunities. And if people aren’t well-matched to the jobs and where they can best use their talents, we’re missing out as an economy and as a society, because those benefits, while they may show up in GDP and in terms of that form of benefit, there are also other benefits in terms of social capital. For example, she asked who’s creating art, who’s got access to being in television and all of these aspects of our social capital as well as the welfare of the economy overall.

Helen explained that the UK doesn’t rank very well in terms of its social mobility. The UK, mobility pay gap, drawn from data in the last decade, suggests that an individual with a tertiary educated father earns 63% more on average than someone whose father did not complete secondary school. We therefore have quite a significant social mobility gap in the UK.  She said that if we managed to move the UK from that position to the average for Western Europe, so not to the best performing countries, which are the Scandinavian countries, but just to the Western Europe average, then we would expect to see an increase in gross domestic product of around 2% through better job matching, which is equivalent to around £40bn per year in today’s prices. She added that if we manage to improve it even further, being able to access some of the good outcomes of the Nordic countries as well, then you could easily imagine even more substantial increases of around £50bn a year. This change would not be instant as it takes time for policies that increase social mobility to translate into these improvements, but once achieved, these are permanent productivity benefits for the society overall.

More information on this work with The Sutton Trust is available on the Oxera website.

Margaret said that she related very well to what Helen said. She said that she grew up in the punk era and was very fortunate that a lot of the people around her got involved in it through writing fanzines and setting up independent record businesses, becoming musicians and journalists. That came from a grassroots level of community spirit where you would go three or four times a week to support your friend’s band or would buy their fanzine or just encourage people to write reviews for concerts, etc. and so Margaret thinks that the whole concept of art for social change really was very empowering for people of her generation. She said that at the age of 15, 16, she didn’t think that the whole concept of good mental health and living a happier life and contributing and the arts was for her. She thought it was probably for people that came from nicer houses and had better lives, but actually looking back and reflecting now, she realises that the art that was being created around her was very accessible to her because it was cheap, but also, it was actually incredibly valuable in terms of empowering the people that got involved in it. Margaret said that she has a sense of political frustration with a small ‘p’ that young people are perhaps being held back in some way to do that, to push that forward.

Shaun said that we talk about talent, but he’d rather talk about talents that people have. He thinks there is a challenge for society in terms of what does society say about what is going to be valued in terms of if somebody moves through their life and through their career.  He said that there are so many talented people out there that can go into media or the movie business, etc, who have got so much to offer and so there is a challenge for us as societies to say “We actually value people for the talents that they have”.

Margaret said that one of the frustrations she has is that sometimes we’ll bring in a policy which is really good, and it immediately can have a positive impact on the communities that need it most. And then we may well have a change of government and suddenly that policy doesn’t fit with what that government is pushing forward. She said it frustrates her because it’s almost like we’ve funded something for three years, we’re just starting to see the positive impact it has, and it’s pulled or changed in a way that the impact has dissipated. She feels we keep repeating that and don’t seem to learn from the history of actually this was a good piece of work. She added though that we’re so much better at measuring impact, rather than just numbers.  We’re actually better at looking at the impact it’s having on communities and individuals and so have to get brighter and braver at continuing with policies that work and investing in them.

Social Mobility Employer Index

The Social Mobility Foundation latest Social Mobility Employer Index ranks the UK’s employers on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to accessing and progressing talent from all backgrounds and highlights the employers doing the most to change the way they find recruits and progress talented employees from different social class backgrounds. For 2019’s PwC came top, but in seventh place is the Ministry of Justice, the highest ranked government department.

Shaun said that it’s great to get that recognition, but he thinks it’s important to say that they are not complacent and there’s more to be done. He said that it recognises the strategic approach that they have taken as an organisation. But more important than that, a strategy or a document is just words on a page. It’s when you change those words into actions and activities and outcomes. He said that there has been a focus on what they can do and what they have done. It identified gaps in terms of their data, and they have taken steps recently to plug those gaps. So, they will have a better and richer data on social economic background measures and how people progress and go through the department in the organisation. But for Shaun, what it shows is the incredible work that’s been done by his team and a recognition. It shows that there is a willingness to change and he thinks they will take risks and take opportunities.

Shaun is encouraged to see an increase in the number of other Civil Service departments that are now appearing in the index and he thinks by learning from PwC and others, they can collectively move things on.

Margaret said that a lot of the people that they work with in partnership are on the Index, which is fantastic because it’s about that collaboration of the committed and the willing – people who are willing to take a risk or to just be a bit more creative around the whole concept of what their pipeline for talent is like.

Shaun said that it encourages them to be bold in terms of their aspirations and by setting out and by having it set out within a strategy to say that’s the direction of travel. Then all of the decisions that are taken on that journey can be focused on the end game, which for Shaun and for other leaders, he thinks should be to ensure that their organisations are representative of society at every level, that they have diversity of background and diversity of thought, and then we achieve better outcomes.

Civil Service

Pete said the Civil Service Commission is doing a number of things to bring in people who may not necessarily have considered the Civil Services as a career option.  He said that each of the schemes that he had talked about are generally working with an external partner to identify candidates to get them through the process and so departments need to be clear about the range of things that are offered there. Then the other thing in terms of the candidates is to help them understand what the Civil Service is. Peter said that lots of people think about the Civil Service as people in Whitehall, because that’s how it’s portrayed in the media very often or they’ll know about the Job Centre or the tax man or maybe the court service, but the Civil Service is so much more. You might be a deckhand on a Coast Guard boat off the coast of Scotland, a meat hygiene inspector in an abattoir, measuring fields or looking at cows on a farm for DEFRA, taking water samples for environment agencies. He added that they regulate 72 different Civil Service bodies in the commission.

What can achieve over the next 12 months?

Pete: “Taking account of the fact that in 2018/19 there were 55,000 appointments into the Civil Service through external recruitment, if we could get just one percent of those given to people through some of these schemes as a starter, that would give us an excellent base on which to build and spread the message really.”

Shaun: “Build upon the foundations that have been laid and maximise the opportunities for collaboration and learning. I want us to see and to really challenge ourselves about recruitment pathways and pathways when people are in the organisation. And I also want us to make best use of the data that we have to really be able to come back here maybe in a year’s time, with a young person who is on the panel, and to be able to say and to recognise the benefit and the good outcomes that have been done. But for me, it is if one person tells a story about how they have been able to raise their head to realise an opportunity and their potential that they didn’t think before, that would be fantastic.”

Margaret: We would like to continue to work with a whole range of different employers. And by doing so, we hope that we can embrace the opportunity of building a more diverse workforce with the young people that we work with. They are fantastic.”

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