· Features

Social mobility: The route less travelled in D&I, part two

Employers are getting to grips with social mobility as part of building a fairer workplace. Beau Jackson reports on the pitfalls HR needs to be aware of when taking its first steps.

Before reading the below catch up one part one of this cover story here.


Do we need a socio-economic pay gap?

By setting targets for social mobility, employers could also open themselves up to reporting a socio-economic pay gap. 

Nationwide, in 2017, the Social Mobility Commission published research that showed people from working class backgrounds who get a professional job are paid an average of £6,800 (17%) less each year compared to colleagues from more affluent backgrounds. 

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In 2021, big four competitors PwC and KPMG both reported their socio-economic pay gaps for the first time, which also showed a disparity at the expense of colleagues from working class backgrounds.

Fowler says widespread reporting of socio-economic pay gaps would not be useful however, as it adds to his concerns about increasing the number of boxes employees are put into, without employers taking action. 

Further, he adds: “It could open up division, whereas the objective here is to narrow division and eradicate it.”

Yet 2021 HR Most Influential Thinker Simone Marquis, managing director at D&I consultancy The Unmistakables, argues that socio-economic pay gap reporting is necessary. 

“We need a pay gap on everything because, otherwise, how will we ever expose where the inequities exist?” she says. “If there’s inequality anywhere, then there is no equality anywhere.”

It comes down to a question of intersectionality she argues: “We cannot be patting ourselves on the back to say we have no gender pay gap if underneath it, what we find is that everyone here who identifies as female is actually of a very privileged class.”

Enonuya is similarly enthusiastic about the introduction of socio-economic pay gap. Companies like KPMG and PwC (which ranked second and sixth respectively on 2021’s index) have proven it can be done, she says, and they give something for other employers to aim for.

She says: “It speaks to the transparency of an organisation – if there are issues, you talk about them openly and that forces you into change. The first step is to not be ashamed of any of the data that you have.”


Where next? 

Grappling with the nuances of a new area of D&I is never easy, and socio-economic background is no different. However, one of the positives Enonuya has noticed is that it’s bringing more people in on the conversation about what an equitable and fair world looks like.

“With a lot of the other diversity markers, you do find that sometimes people are ‘left out’. So, when it comes to race issues, if black people are speaking, people feel like they can’t say very much, whereas when it comes to socio-economic background, it’s something that affects all of us,” she says. “It is quite easy to start that conversation.”

As another piece in the puzzle of what makes us all who we are, Catley is confident that focusing on social mobility will serve as a foothold for further discussions of intersectionality.

“The reality is that when we look at D&I, we tend to look at it in a very siloed way. But it’s the intersectionality of all of those characteristics together that have a compound effect on somebody’s opportunity or barriers that are presented to them to progress,” she says.

“The benefit is not only in looking at socio-economic background – it’s got a massive illuminating effect when we think about gender or race as well.”

As with all areas of D&I, socio-economic inequality is not a mountain that any organisation can hope to conquer alone. The education system, government policy and a public understanding of social mobility will have to align with organisation’s goals to affect real change. However, with some carefully considered steps, HR can at least help begin the climb.


The full piece of the above appears in the May/June 2022 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.