· Features

Barrister Hashi Mohamed talks social mobility and how to make it to the top

Having arrived in Britain as a child refugee Hashi Mohamed worked hard to break through the class ceiling. He now works as a barrister and

He was raised on benefits and attended some of the lowest-performing schools in the country yet now works as a barrister.

Mohamed has used his own experiences to write People Like Us: What it Takes to Make it in Modern Britain to reflect on social mobility in the UK.

“We live in a society where the single greatest indicator of what your job will be is the job of your parents,” he says.

“Where power and privilege are concentrated among the 7% of the population who were privately educated. Where, if your name sounds black or Asian, you'll need to send out twice as many job applications as your white neighbour.”

HR magazine asked Mohamed some questions surrounding social mobility and his book.

What inspired you to write this book?

The writing of this book was partly prompted by a documentary I made for BBC Radio 4 in April 2017 on social mobility. The topic is timely, and a lot of people want to share their own personal stories.

For me, I told the story of how I came to the UK as a young unaccompanied child refugee, without any knowledge of the English language or customs.

It has been a long and hard journey, with many false starts, twists and turns, plenty of missed opportunities and of course quite a bit of luck. I felt a sense of duty to share my social mobility story with people in order to inspire them, but also to tell a responsible story of what success means in modern Britain.

In terms of employment, what's your advice to people who feel they might be aiming 'above their social status' when applying for jobs?

My first piece of advice is to not convince yourself that you do not deserve to aspire to opportunities which you may know little about, or you may not have previously imagined for yourself.

It is critical that you do not close down the chance of wanting to be something even if those around you, parents, friends, and neighbours, may think that it is not the sort of thing that 'people like us' do.

The second thing is to remember to be realistic. Don't look at incomplete stories of success and good fortune as being the only way to prosper.

Successful people especially are more likely to overestimate their personal role in why they have done well, and in convincing themselves that they have control over their own destiny.

In other words, success and doing well can be achieved in a myriad of ways; if you limit yourself by thinking there is either 'one route' or 'one way' of doing it, you narrow your chances significantly.

The third is to have a plan, any sort of plan. So many young people spend little time really reflecting with little to no foresight as to precisely why they have studied a particular subject at university; why they didn't spend their holidays - provided they could afford to - doing more (or any) work experience, and trying to expose themselves to new people and environments in order to learn new ideas and ways of doing things. The magnitude of the challenge is often lost on them.

In your opinion, what is the biggest change that needs to be made to the UK employment system?

There are plenty of things which need to change in the UK employment system. But perhaps from the perspective of the top professions, or most of the professional context - a big step would be to start recruiting based on potential rather than polish. Contextual recruitment is one of the buzzwords these days and hopefully it will make a difference in the near future.

And finally, what more can HR do to support workers of all backgrounds in the workplace?

Challenge your companies to think more creatively about the way they recruit. The formalised recruitment processes often make it hard for some people's abilities to shine through.

Think of different ways to ask the same question and try to ensure that a particular environment does not favour some candidates by default.

Similarly, when they are in, allow for more flexibility in the workplace so that more people can feel the comfort and ease to be themselves.

This will not only help them with their productivity, but it is the organisation which shall reap the benefits. Ensure that there are mechanisms and safe environments for people to be able to raise questions and concerns.

Also try to ensure that there is a period of 'bedding in' for those who are new, which often means that you don't recruit at the last minute with a view to just recruiting those who can 'hit the ground running'.