Women In Transformation - Social Mobility Round Up

We recently held the sixth instalment of our ED&I event series, Women In Transformation. This event’s focus was the long-awaited topic of social mobility, what it means and how we can support it in a meaningful way. Ensuring that we took an intersectional approach, we wanted everybody who was able to join us to share their experiences on what can be a really multi-faceted subject to cover.

In what may well be our most interactive and engaging session yet, the event was abuzz with open dialogue that grabbed the attention of the room and led to some brilliant insights and enlightening stories.

Based on the feedback we’ve had, we’re confident we were able to meet our mission for the evening, which our Managing Director, Minesh Jobanputra, put so aptly: 

“If you’re in a position of influence, a position of hiring, a position of leadership or coaching or mentoring, we want you to consider what you can do differently to change your approaches after tonight.”

To make sure that none of these insights are lost, we’ve brought you the best moments from the evening in our round-up below.

The Many Faces of Social Mobility

Before truly delving into the topic, we had to take some time to consider “What is social mobility?”

With so many elements having a role in social mobility, it is almost impossible to pin it down to one definitive explanation.

For some of our guests and panellists, it is about fairness and feeling as if you belong, while for others, it is about ensuring that opportunities for education and progression are available for everyone, no matter who you are or where they’re from.

As panellist Tavier Taylor put it, social mobility means: 

“Your circumstances should not determine your success.”

To truly understand and support social mobility, you need to consider all facets of ED&I, including class, gender, race, age, disabilities, sexuality and religious beliefs. Without encompassing all of these areas, you risk leaving people behind in the fight for true diversity and inclusion.

“Professionalism” and How It Can Curb Social Mobility

While discussing what social mobility means to everyone, COO Sasha Covington and Interim CEO Anna Fleming spoke on how “professionalism” and “codes” are utilised to prevent those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds from breaking into certain industries and roles.

Anna Fleming, Panellist: “Professionalism is often used to dismiss those with whom you don’t feel comfortable with.”

A need for “professionalism” and the existence of unwritten rules and “codes” allows for those in protected and privileged positions to create arbitrary conditions for success, creating a barrier for those who aren’t from that world or class. It can also lead to conversations that should never take place, for instance, comments made about a person’s accent or demeanour.

The best way to tackle these hurdles is by supporting those who don’t know these codes throughout their careers. This can be in the form of CV workshops, interview preparation and detailed feedback, inviting them to networking events they would otherwise be excluded from and supporting them through any instances of discrimination in the workplace, whether overt or invisible to most.

“When I was at school, the first winner of The Apprentice, Tim Campbell, came in to speak to us; just seeing someone who looked and sounded like me being successful helped to affirm that I could also be successful.”

Once these fantastic people have worked their way up into senior positions, they will have the ability to curb these codes and can ensure that anyone who uses the term “unprofessional” when describing candidates or colleagues takes time to step back and question themselves on why they’ve made that assumption and what drives it.

These steps will not only eradicate undue barriers but will also improve companies’ diversity of thought and drive smarter decisions across the board.

Sasha Covington, Panellist: “You have to recognise the issues that you see when you’re coming up and remember that you’re never going to be a part of those conversations and issues once you get to a higher position.”

Pulling Up the Ladder and Social Mobility

A crucial part of social mobility is affording everyone the opportunity to move up the social ladder. Our guests and panellists were worried that for those who have already transitioned to a higher social class or status, it can be easy for them to get their “sharp elbows” out to ensure that their children and friends are given the best opportunities available to them, denying others those same opportunities.

To have true equality of opportunity and aspiration, those who’ve been successful in manoeuvring the social mobility ladder have to acknowledge the protection and privileges that they now have.

Once someone has gotten to these hard-to-reach places it is easy to become acclimatised to them and become part of the apparatus which once fought to keep them out. That’s why it’s crucial that anyone in a position of leadership or power takes steps to help those who are looking to come from a position of hardship, especially if it means avoiding nepotism or cronyism.

One great way that leaders and C-suite professionals can ensure this happens is by becoming a mentor. Whether it’s just being there as a friend or a role model, forming a relationship with someone who has never been exposed to certain worlds and luxuries helps to stoke their aspiration and gives them valuable learnings that will see them navigate difficulties and potential discrimination.

Data’s Relationship with Social Mobility

When the conversation turned to specific tangible actions that organisations can take to improve social mobility, the issue of data and how to utilise it came up.

Data can be a fantastic tool within the ED&I space. It can highlight key areas of concern in terms of diversity, and it can be utilised to bring propositions of reform and improvement to organisations that would otherwise overlook the importance of social mobility. It can be the difference between getting a policy signed off or denied.

In some situations, however, it can make representation a box-ticking exercise. When organisations set quotas for interviews and internal positions while not embracing social mobility fully, they risk falling into tokenism and creating environments of dissatisfaction. For those in this situation, it can prove tiresome and belittling.

When people are brought on to round up a number or fill in a spreadsheet, they can tell immediately. Their experience will be poor, and their engagement will likely not be at the level expected of them as a result. Even more importantly, they won’t stick around; you can’t retain people when you’re not truly invested in them and their growth.

“When you utilise data to bring ED&I forward as a proposition, you move it away from a box-ticking exercise because organisations are invested in improvement, and diversity brings exactly that.”

Utilising data as a tool for, and not the aim of, social mobility will result in better outcomes for all parties involved and can lead us to a brighter future in the world of work. 

Changing How We Review Talent and Skill

The topic that came up most frequently within our discussion is how organisations and people in hiring positions look at talent and potential. Archaic approaches of only offering senior roles to those who hold degrees from the country's best universities are slowly petering out.

Anna Fleming, Panellist: “We’ve gone from it having to be Oxbridge to it having to be Red Brick to “does it have to be anything?””

The days that saw only one route into industries such as financial services are gradually being put behind us. No longer is it enough to simply exist in a realm of privilege to be appointed to a leading company or team. The question of aptitude and talent is now being weighed against all elements, not just your connections and status.

Ysabel Gaspar, Panellist: “People with privilege aren’t necessarily good at their jobs.”

Opportunities are now being afforded to those who are looking to work straight after finishing school when previously they would’ve been completely excluded from whole sectors simply for not choosing or being able to pursue further education.

However, graduates are not being ignored for these roles; they’re still considered and are part of the processes. There are just more avenues for other people to reach the same goals.

Anna Fleming, Panellist: “We need to look for routes into roles that don’t utilise degrees. We need to get over ourselves and see that education isn’t the be-all and end-all.”

Women In Transformation and Social Mobility

Having absorbed an evening of fantastic dialogue and unique perspectives, Minesh reflected on the role that Women In Transformation has in the space of social mobility.

“I think we need to consider what we’re looking to do with Women In Transformation and social mobility. I think it’s time we moved more towards the pursuit of equity rather than just equality.”

Our future Women In Transformation events will look to bring even more tangible advice from the ED&I space to our guests and will continue to encompass every area of intersectionality, with disability on our radar, for our potential next topic.

If you’re interested in attending our next Women In Transformation event, you can register your interest here.

Also, if you’re looking to get involved in mentoring and supporting some fantastic mentees, you can join our Deltra Mentoring Programme here.

A profile picture for Minesh Jobanputra

Minesh Jobanputra

23rd April

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