Socioeconomic Background and the Importance of Socioeconomic Diversity in Organizations
Sadly, someone’s ability to do a job is often judged on their household income, what their parents did for a living, what school they went to as a child, or the area they reside in. Many organizations don’t mean to exclude those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but their recruitment processes may present barriers to applying for some roles. This can lead to lower levels of diversity across all sectors, with socioeconomic background having a significant impact on the level of representation.
Despite socioeconomic background intersecting across all demographic groups, it is often overlooked, which can lead to a general lack of career opportunities for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
So, what is socioeconomic background, and what are the benefits of socioeconomic diversity in an organization?
Socioeconomic background relates to a combination of an individual's income, occupation, and social background and is a key determinant of success and future life chances.
Only 7% of the UK population were privately educated, yet hold a high percentage of leading roles in the UK including:
- 65% of Senior Judges
- 57% of the House of Lords
- 74% of the cabinet
- 44% of Journalists
- 71% of Barristers
- 34% of FTSE 350 CEOs
These people create policies and strategies, push legislation, and drive change, but, because of their privileged upbringings, they may not understand the complex issues and barriers surrounding social mobility. This has led to some of the worst wealth inequality we have ever seen in the UK. In 2020, the wealthiest 10% of UK households held a staggering 43% of all UK wealth, and this figure continues to rise.
The reality of socioeconomic background impacting career opportunities and income are clear:
- It will take 5 generations for those born in low-income families to approach the national mean income.
- Children who have a Doctor as a parent are 24 times more likely to become a Doctor than those who don’t. Children of Lawyers are 17 times more likely to go into law, and those with parents working in film and TV are 12 times more likely to get into the media.
- Someone from a professional background is over 60% more likely to be in a professional role than an individual from a lower socio-economic background.
High levels of social mobility mean that people from all backgrounds can access the opportunities suited to their talents and aspirations, and having people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds in your organization brings benefits such as:
- Problem solving
- Diversity of thought
- Fresh perspectives
- Higher performance
- Wider recruitment pool
- Higher staff engagement
- Lower staff turnover
- Diverse and inclusive workplaces are employers of choice
- Better serve clients
- Reflection of the market and communities we work in
As the UK wealth divide increases, more households are being pushed into a lower socioeconomic bracket. So, by not considering socioeconomic background as part of a recruitment strategy, organizations are missing out on a wealth of talent.
How socially inclusive do you think your recruitment and selection process is?
It is essential to recognize the fact that those from a poorer background will have limited access to opportunities and, therefore, less work experience, and to adjust recruitment processes accordingly. Here are just some of the things to consider as part of an inclusive recruitment strategy:
- How would a potential employee from a working-class background know about your organization?
- Do you advertise on a range of job boards that are accessible to people from all backgrounds?
- Do you recruit from schools, colleges, and universities that are truly committed to social mobility?
- Do you proactively recruit and advertise your organization in social mobility “cold spots”?
- Do you regularly check the website/careers page/external communications to ensure it appeals to people from all backgrounds?
- Are the staff pictures on your website from a charity black tie event? What if a potential applicant cannot afford to buy or rent a tuxedo?
- Are you using language that people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not be familiar with?
- Do you ask about extra-curricular activities?
- Music lessons, sports clubs, etc., are a luxury that many simply cannot afford. The choice of paying for football boots or putting food on the table is a reality for millions of households. Many children support their families with caring responsibilities or jobs after school, so they never have the time to take part in extra-curricular activities. These children could be the next Kylian Mbappè, Roger Federer, or Simone Biles, but they had neither the time nor the money to discover their true potential, so it is important not to judge or assess them on this subject.
- Do you focus on skills and potential or qualifications?
- Is a degree essential for the job you are advertising for? Spending 3+ years studying and paying for textbooks or working full time to ensure housing, heat, and food for the family is a choice that thousands need to make every year. What if the person with the cure for cancer couldn’t afford to go to university?
- Do you anonymize applications to decrease unconscious bias?
- Opinions can be formed because of an applicant’s name, where they went to school, or where they live, so it is important to anonymize. And then manage this bias – continue to reinforce the benefits of social inclusion.
- Look at all entry routes into your organization – ensure there is a breadth of programs and available routes - at all levels
- Can someone from a lower socioeconomic background truly thrive in your organization? Or, when they get to senior management level, will they feel excluded as all the Directors went to Cambridge university or are members of the same golf club?
- To give people the best chance to apply rather than simply trying to weed people out of the selection process, consider contextual recruitment
- By contextualizing recruitment, you will see barriers to success that will have had an impact on a person’s life chances. For example, candidate A has a first from an Oxbridge university, whereas candidate B has a 2:1 from a new university. Standard shortlisting will see candidate A as the preferred candidate. However, candidate B went to one of the lowest performing schools in the UK, performed at the top 2% of their year group, all while having caring responsibilities at home, whereas candidate A was privately educated. Think how much harder candidate B had to work to go to university, how many obstacles they had to overcome, how many problems they had to solve along the way and how these life skills can benefit your organization.
If you would like to discuss how TPP can assist with inclusive recruitment so you can reach candidates from all backgrounds, then please check out our inclusive recruitment guide or contact me on 020 7198 6112.
Sources / further reading:
- Sutton Trust
- The EY Foundation reveals research on the charity sector on diversity, equality, and inclusion
- Household total wealth in Great Britain
- Social Mobility Commission
- Civil Society
- Social Mobility Foundation