The causes of poor social mobility are deep-rooted and complex, but that doesn’t mean employers can’t do more to attract a diverse talent pool. Jodie Grove explains how technology can break down some of the barriers preventing candidates from applying for certain roles.
For all the hope that Britain is a country where meritocracy rules, it’s an uncomfortable fact that the reality is very different.
According to the Social Mobility Commission, social mobility has been virtually stagnant over the last five years. In 2014 only 32% of those from working class backgrounds secured professional jobs, rising marginally to 34% last year.
Another report from the Sutton Trust found eight elite schools had sent more pupils to Oxbridge than 2,900 state schools combined. This is having a demonstrable impact on the backgrounds of those working in senior, influential positions; overall, despite just 7% of people going to private school, they create 71% of all senior judges; 62% of senior armed forces officers and 54% of CFOs.
The UK’s lack of social mobility is often even more acute for minority groups. Last year, just 84 of the 1,048 director positions in the FTSE 100 were held by a business leader from an ethnic minority.
The causes of poor social mobility are deep-rooted, complex and ultimately societal, but this doesn’t mean employers are powerless to act. In fact, they can do much more than they think – not least by ensuring their recruitment processes don’t continue to perpetuate low application rates from people from less privileged and minority backgrounds.
What do we mean by this? One of the biggest fears people from working class or minority backgrounds have is “their face not fitting”.
This tends to prevent people from being confident about applying for roles they are perfectly suited for. We’ve found that by simply removing this barrier with chat technology – in the form of anonymous group chats where candidates can hear more about a role or organisation and ask questions – employers have seen significant rises in applications from candidates who otherwise may have dropped out, or not applied at all.
Companies that encourage this form of interaction don’t just break down perceived barriers, they also help present themselves as an organisation that values peer-to-peer interaction, diversity of opinion, and inclusivity. Showcasing people from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds (particularly through live video streaming) communicates that everyone is welcome and valued. Senior leaders can talk to and answer candidate questions on their company’s policies towards diversity and nothing is left hidden.
Another communication medium which can attract more diverse candidates is chatbots. These not only protect anonymity but help in less obvious ways too; we find many candidates from less privileged backgrounds often worry about not speaking the ‘Queen’s English’ or not having the right on-screen wardrobe.
These concerns can be easily eliminated with chatbots which candidates can interrogate at-their-leisure – be it for fact-finding or to slowly build up their confidence to apply.
Many young people are holding down more than one part-time job, in addition to their studies. With the always-on nature of chatbots, they can find out about roles when they have the time to do it, rather than being tied to pre-defined event timings or speaking to an adviser during office hours.
Group online chats also remove a barrier for those who may struggle to afford to travel to face-to-face information events, while chats facilitated by an executive with a diverse background can further reinforce positive messaging around looking for people who possess the right skills and attitudes, not the right school tie.
With data from the Centre for Economic and Business Research finding organisations with more diverse workforces are 12% more likely to outperform those with less diversity, the business case alone for widening recruitment is compelling. This is without the moral one and the fact diversity is just the right thing to do.
Only recently global law firm Linklaters announced how it would use technology to widen participation by offering a free ‘virtual internship’, which allows students to get a taste of the day-to-day workings of a City firm.
Companies like this are clearly doing their bit to help reduce some of the real and perceived challenges diverse candidates face when it comes to applying for roles and they’re doing it in a way that uses technology to present themselves in a new, trusted, and engaging way.
They are not only helping ensure they become more representative of the UK and their clients, but they’re also proving that technology needn’t always be the barrier to authentic communication it’s often painted as.
Some might well regard social mobility as stagnant, but with clever technology – and a genuine commitment to change – the pendulum might just start swinging in the right direction.