Responsible Business Week – Connecting the Unconnected

Businesses need a social conscience
Businesses need a social conscience

At the Business in the Community event held today (19 April) in London, a session was held to discuss the key topics and themes surrounding responsible business to mark Responsible Business Week.

The session asked the question: what practical steps can businesses take to break down barriers to social mobility?

Standard Life’s chief people office Sandy Begbie used the session to call on all businesses to build social mobility into their DNA. Outlining the key ideas before the session he said:

“Whether it’s working with schools and colleges in their local community, making recruitment more accessible to a wider audience, or moving towards paying the living wage, everyone deserves the opportunity to realise their potential and it’s clear that tackling barriers to social mobility is the right thing to do. It should be part of business DNA.

“And even with supportive interventions in our communities, it’s wrong for employers to expect young people to arrive from school 100% workplace ready. We should all remember that we didn’t start work perfectly formed.”

13.00 Welcome from the chair, Lewis Iwu, director, Fair Education Alliance

Responsible Business Week is now in it’s fourth year, and is aimed at tackling social problems. Iwu points out that social mobility is one of the biggest issues facing the UK and claims that business has a key role to play in making sure every child has a fair chance at progressing their careers.

13.05 State of the nation – Jack Feintuck, head of youth policy, Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission

Successive governments have sought to improve social mobility, and more working class students are going on to receive a higher education. Yet we are still a long way from reaching the point where all children have the same opportunities, and a child’s background still has a huge impact on their social mobility.

However, schools are improving and London in particular has poorer children achieving above the average GCSE results.

The vocational system remains complex, careers advice is often patchy and not up to scratch, leaving those who choose not to go to university disadvantaged.

What can companies do?

Mainstream hiring practices should cater for social mobility.

It’s more difficult and more impressive to achieve A*s if you come from an under-privileged backgrounds, and some firms are now considering this. This means recording the social background of your staff and measuring outcomes.

Some are tailoring their hiring process and interviews so that background and accent doesn’t affect their chances.

Identify talent and potential rather than superficial factors influenced by backgrounds.

Make sure internships and work experiences are catered for all those who would be interested, not just those who can afford a week unpaid work etc.

The apprenticeship programme has a huge role to play.

13.15 what have we learnt working with business? Grace Mehanna, director, BITC

Evaporating jobs, rising debts, university fees, schools becoming academies and setting their own criteria, all of these act as factors on social mobility.

A new campaign has been launched called Futureproof. This looks at how young people can successfully transition from education to the world of work.

When the campaign was launched, BITC asked 4,000 young people about their experiences of looking for work. Around a third claimed the process was difficult and 57% said the biggest barrier was the requirement for work experience.

Businesses can tackle this by making social mobility core to their whole approach:

  • Re-assess your criteria for entry-level roles
  • Create a transparent recruitment process to support young people at every stage
  • Offer feedback to interviewed candidates
  • Assess young people against their behaviours and skills rather than previous experience

13.20 Supporting young people through engagement with schools and training, Sandy Begbie, chief people officer, Standard Life

Standard Life decided to work with initiatives that helped get young people in to work. The business has benefitted hugely by engaging with this generation – the tech skills that have been brought in to the workforce have been significant, and communicating with younger consumers has been make easier.

For the last couple of years if you joined any schemes staff were not given names of applicants to remove any unconscious bias.

The education system can sometimes alienate young people who may not excel but who have other skills that would be useful in the world of work. It is necessary to try and recognise these skills – it comes back to hiring based on behaviours, not necessarily just qualifications.

Managers were hesitant at first, but have come to see that young people are capable of more than they even probably realise and they can be a huge benefit to a company.

The company is also looking at other disadvantaged groups – ethnic minorities, disabled people and ex-armed forces.

13.25 How we have changed recruitment processes to promote social mobility, Dan Richards, recruiting leader EY UK & Ireland

Launching schemes to help get young people employability skills and management skills. It’s a national problem, so there will be three local hubs across the UK.

Removed the 2.1 degree or the UCAS points criteria to open up opportunities to a more diverse range of talent. If everyone is white, middle class and male you are not necessarily going to be able to serve a diverse, multicultural, multinational client base.

Particularly with some of the professional industries you get too much narrowness and elitism. In addition, there is some evidence that if your organisation is seen to be too elitist, you will get less students and young people applying in the first place. You will diminish your own talent pool.

It’s key to level the playing field – don’t only assess people based on qualifications and experience, ask them what they love to do. Look for passion, enthusiasm and other skills. The traditional recruitment tool is just too blunt an instrument.

There is little research backing up the idea that academic performance will mirror job performance.

Government, charities and businesses must work together to tackle some of these systemic challenges.

13.40 Facilitated panel discussion

Iwu points out that you can have nameless CVs, but eventually you will meet the candidates – are you just shifting the issue of unconscious bias to further down the process?

Feintuck claims that some sectors are certainly better than others with these processes and Mehanna highlights that these processes being changed will take time. It takes ages to changes practices that may have been in place for decades.

Begbie highlighted that it could help increase applications – simply because young people might think a company is elitist and not apply. If they know there is an anonymous application process it actually builds the company’s reputation.

Mehanna added that location is another barrier to young people looking for work. Businesses must look at putting young people up in hotels so they can make it to an interview, or paying for travel costs etc.