Insights for Organisations

What is Social Mobility? An Employer’s Guide

Paul Brown
13.10.23

It has never been more difficult for children in low socioeconomic backgrounds to move up the social ladder, according to a Institute for Fiscal Studies report. It’s more important than ever for businesses to fulfil their social and moral responsibility to facilitate social mobility and demonstrate ethical leadership. This is something ingrained into our core at FDM, ensuring that all individuals, regardless of their background, have the opportunity to realise their potential and contribute to society.

Improving social mobility is not only an ethical obligation but is estimated to have a substantial economic impact on the UK. The Sutton Trust calculates that increasing social mobility across businesses in the UK to meet the average level across Western Europe could result in a 9% increase in GDP, which is equivalent to £2,620 per person, or £170 billion, to the UK economy annually.

We’ll explore social mobility and its impact in the workplace in more detail, and provide you with actionable advice on how your business can improve social mobility and realise the advantages of fostering an inclusive workplace.

What’s in this article?

What is social mobility?

Social mobility refers to the ability of an individual or a family to move up or down the social and economic ladder within a society or between generations. It is a measure of the extent to which people can improve or worsen their social and economic status in comparison to their parents or previous generations.

What types of social mobility exist?

There are different types of social mobility, including:

  1. Vertical social mobility: moving up or down the social hierarchy. For example, if someone born into a lower-income family manages to attain a higher income and a better social status than their parents, it’s considered upward vertical mobility.
  1. Horizontal social mobility: a change in occupation or lifestyle without a significant change in social or economic status. For instance, if someone changes careers or moves to a different location without a substantial change in their income or social standing, it’s considered horizontal mobility.
  1. Intergenerational economic advancement: the capacity to advance economically from one generation to another, moving up the socioeconomic ladder.
  1. Intragenerational economic progress: enhancing one’s income during their lifetime, typically within a single generation.
  1. Personal economic advancement: elevating one’s social standing by acquiring additional education and skills, leading to economic growth and improved prospects.

What is social mobility in the workplace?

In the context of the workplace, social mobility refers to an individual’s ability to move upward or downward within the hierarchy or structure of a company or organisation. It is about advancing one’s career and improving their job position, income, and overall professional status within their current workplace. Here are some key aspects of social mobility in the workplace:

8 Examples of social mobility in the workplace

  1. Promotions: An employee starts as an entry-level worker and gradually rises through the ranks to take on more significant roles with higher responsibilities and better compensation.
  1. Training opportunities: An individual who begins their career with a basic education level or skill set invests in further education or training to acquire specialised skills and qualifications, allowing them to access higher-paying positions.
  1. Job changes: An employee changes jobs or companies to move into a different role or industry that offers better career prospects and financial rewards.
  1. Entrepreneurship: Someone starts their own business or becomes a self-employed entrepreneur, which can lead to financial success and independence.
  1. Mentorship: A less experienced employee receives guidance and support from a mentor within the organisation, helping them to develop their skills and advance in their career.
  1. Networking: Building a strong professional network allows an individual to access job opportunities, referrals, and valuable connections that can lead to career growth.
  2. Diversity and inclusion initiatives: Organisations implement diversity and inclusion programmes that create an environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds have equal opportunities for career advancement.
  1. Performance recognition: Employees who consistently excel in their roles are recognised and rewarded with promotions or salary increases.

What influences social mobility in the workplace?

Social mobility in the workplace is shaped by education, economic conditions, workplace culture, discrimination, social networks, government policies, and more. These factors collectively impact an individual’s ability to start or advance in their career and improve their socioeconomic status within an organisation or industry.

10 Factors impacting social mobility in the workplace

  1. Education: The level and quality of education an individual receives can significantly impact their career prospects and social mobility.
  1. Access to opportunities: The availability of job openings, training programmes, and advancement opportunities within an organisation or industry can affect social mobility.
  1. Workplace culture: An inclusive and meritocratic workplace culture can support social mobility, while a culture of favouritism or discrimination can hinder it.
  1. Economic conditions: Broader economic factors, such as recessions or economic growth, can influence job availability and salary levels, affecting social mobility.
  1. Discrimination and bias: Discrimination based on factors like race, gender, age, or ethnicity can create barriers to advancement and limit social mobility.
  1. Networking and social capital: Access to professional networks and social connections can play a significant role in job opportunities and career progression.
  1. Family background: Socioeconomic status and family support can either provide a foundation for or pose challenges to social mobility.
  1. Government policies: Policies related to labour markets, education, taxation, and social welfare can either support or impede social mobility.
  1. Technological changes: Advances in technology can create new job opportunities while rendering certain skills obsolete, affecting individuals’ career trajectories. Likewise, access to technology can also determine social mobility, with those lacking accessibility less able to progress upwards.
  1. Geographic location: Where an individual lives can impact their access to job markets, educational institutions, and economic opportunities.

Are employers responsible for social mobility?

Employers have a significant role to play in facilitating social mobility, but they are not solely responsible for it. Social mobility is influenced by a complex interplay of factors, including education, government policies, economic conditions, and individual efforts. However, employers can contribute to social mobility by creating inclusive workplaces with equal opportunities for career advancement, implementing fair hiring and promotion practices, and providing resources and support for skill development.

Facilitating social mobility isn’t just a moral imperative; it’s key to building stronger, more resilient organisations and contributing to a more equitable society!

10 Ways businesses can improve social mobility in the workplace

  1. Implement inclusive hiring practices
  2. Provide equal access to training
  3. Promote a culture of inclusion company-wide
  4. Offer flexible work arrangements
  5. Provide transparency in pay and benefits
  6. Ensure diversity in leadership
  7. Run mentoring programmes
  8. Collect and analyse data
  9. Fund employee resource groups (ERGs)
  10. Promote community engagement

1. Implement inclusive hiring practices

By using blind recruitment and diverse interview panels, businesses ensure that candidates are judged solely on their skills, increasing opportunities for individuals from diverse backgrounds and contributing to social mobility within the workforce. Read our top tips on improving diversity in recruitment.

2. Provide equal access to training

Individuals with no qualifications have an employment rate of 47%, whereas, those with a bachelor’s degree or above have a rate of 84%! With education being a huge contributor when it comes to obtaining employment in higher paying and more prestigious roles, it is important that you offer all employees equal opportunities to learn new skills and further educate themselves.

Offering training and mentorship programmes to all employees, regardless of their backgrounds, equips them with the skills needed to advance in their careers, thus fostering social mobility within the organisation.

3. Promote a culture of inclusion company-wide

A workplace culture that values diversity and inclusion not only enhances employees’ sense of belonging but also creates an environment where all individuals, regardless of their background, can thrive and pursue upward mobility. Here are five diversity and inclusion initiatives to get behind today!

4. Offer flexible work arrangements

Implementing flexible work policies accommodates the diverse needs of employees, including those who may have caregiving responsibilities or other barriers to traditional work arrangements, thus enhancing their access to career opportunities and social mobility. For example, remote work options, flexible hours, and part-time arrangements are invaluable for working parents who often face the challenge of balancing caregiving responsibilities with their careers.

5. Provide transparency in pay and benefits

Ensuring transparent compensation structures addresses pay inequities and provides a level playing field for employees, irrespective of their backgrounds. Make sure to communicate these structures clearly with all employees, especially the managers responsible for your appraisal and promotion processes.

6. Ensure diversity in leadership

Encouraging diversity in leadership positions not only offers role models but also communicates that social mobility is attainable for all, regardless of their background, and fosters diversity at all levels of the organisation.

7. Run mentoring programmes

Formal mentoring and sponsorship programmes help employees navigate their careers and access opportunities, facilitating social mobility as individuals receive guidance from experienced professionals. Mentors share valuable insights, expand networks, and offer career advice, which helps mentees develop skills and access resources necessary for advancing in their careers and achieving upward mobility.

8. Collect and analyse data

Regularly collecting diversity data and sharing statistics transparently demonstrates a commitment to creating an inclusive environment that supports social mobility for all employees. One way you can do this is through a gender pay gap report, which analyses the difference in average earnings between men and women, but can extend to other differences, such as race or socioeconomic background. Reporting on this data helps your organisation remain accountable and benchmark your progress.

9. Fund employee resource groups (ERGs)

ERGs provide a platform for underrepresented groups to advocate for their needs, share experiences, and influence workplace policies, thereby enhancing social mobility for members of these groups.

10. Promote community engagement

Engaging with community initiatives related to education, skill development, and social mobility not only benefits society but also allows businesses to contribute positively to their communities, aligning with broader efforts to promote social mobility.

For more information on how to improve social mobility in the workplace, read the government’s official advice.

5 benefits of hiring from diverse backgrounds and facilitating social mobility

The business case for diversity is clear. Here are five benefits of hiring from diverse backgrounds:

1. Enhanced creativity

Diverse teams bring together individuals with different perspectives, experiences, and problem-solving approaches. This diversity of thought can lead to more creative solutions and innovative ideas, which can give the organisation a competitive edge.

2. Improved decision-making

Diverse teams tend to make better decisions. They are more likely to consider a wider range of perspectives and potential outcomes, leading to more informed and balanced choices.

3. Increased adaptability

Employees from diverse backgrounds often have a broader range of skills and adaptability, making them better equipped to handle change and navigate complex situations. This can be particularly valuable in dynamic industries.

4. Broader marketing understanding

A diverse workforce can help organisations better understand and connect with a wide range of customers and markets. It enables the company to tailor products, services, and marketing strategies more effectively.

5. Enhanced employee engagement and retention

A diverse and inclusive workplace fosters a sense of belonging among employees, which can lead to higher job satisfaction, greater loyalty, and reduced turnover. Employees are more likely to stay with organisations that value and respect their unique contributions.

Learn more about increasing diversity in recruitment and upskilling successful candidates to close the digital skills gap, and improve business outcomes.

Social mobility at FDM

At FDM, we are committed to improving social mobility in the technology sector, giving our candidates the opportunities and training they need to pursue a successful career.  In fact, FDM has been ranked in 34th position within the top 75 UK organisations dedicated to social mobility. We are delighted to have ranked higher up from 48th last year. We offer our clients access to a diverse talent pool, brimming with varied skill sets, knowledge from all backgrounds, and creative minds ready to bring value to your teams.

Join us on a mission to improve social mobility for the lives of many in the UK. Check out our consultant services or get in touch for more information.