Social mobility – good people, good for society, good for business

The UK Social Mobility Index (SMI) reveals the differences between a young person's upbringing and the education and employment opportunities they have access to as adults.  The impact of COVID-19 has driven already growing interest across government, society, and the business community in improving social mobility.

According to research from the Sutton Trust, which campaigns for better social mobility, the most powerful people in Britain are five times more likely to have gone to private school.  In a bid to change this, the SMI enables firms in the UK to share their initiatives and their progress as they strive to become more inclusive employers. It also reveals which sectors and companies are taking the issue of social mobility most seriously and driving real change.

Macquarie is currently one of the few financial services firms to feature in the Index, taking a two-pronged approach through the Macquarie Group Foundation’s local grant partners and our own talent and recruitment strategies.

Improving social mobility is of growing interest to the business world, according to Rachel Engel, Head of the Macquarie Group Foundation in EMEA, but it presents unique challenges.

“It’s easier to see that you don’t have enough women or members of the Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) community in the business than it is to understand whether you’re employing sufficient numbers of people from less privileged backgrounds,” she says. “It’s only when you look at the careers of parents, use of free school meals and whether people are the first in their family to go to university that you begin to see the gaps.”

Rachel quotes Jo Dibb, Executive Head of Islington Futures in London, “Jo talks about ‘social capital’. She points out that if a young person from a state school and one from a top private school walked into a room you might be able to tell who is who, based on small social cues - such as eye contact, a handshake and general confidence and posture. We’re funding and providing mentors to organisations such as the Social Mobility Foundation and Leadership Through Sport & Business to help young people from less privileged backgrounds to build their ‘social capital’ and improve their chances of getting a job in professional services.”

The Foundation’s work is interconnected with our own initiatives aimed at improving social mobility. “We’re very aware that people applying for jobs from more privileged backgrounds are more likely to be successful because they have more support,” says Sally Gannon, Head of Graduate Recruitment at Macquarie in EMEA.  

“We offer practical support and advice to help candidates prepare and get access to the resources that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she says. “We explain why we have psychometric testing and what they need to do to prepare for it. We show them videos of good and bad interviews and give the students opportunities to discuss and learn from them. These workshops give them the confidence they need to do themselves justice in an interview. Very often we find graduate candidates from less privileged backgrounds have not had the opportunity to do an internship, but they typically have other life experiences that demonstrate their commitment and resilience.”

Macquarie in EMEA has three new initiatives this year, all underpinning the theme of social mobility in the UK. The first is a BAME coaching and mentoring programme, working with a group of high achieving students from ethnic minority backgrounds who are interested in applying to Macquarie. Macquarie’s Female Business Series is a development programme for women in their first year of university, and over 12 months will see young female students paired up with a female mentor from Macquarie. Macquarie’s Commodities and Global Markets business is also offering a scholarship programme to three students from under-represented backgrounds, which will see Macquarie pay fees and maintenance for three years, with a guaranteed place on each of Macquarie’s Insight, Intern and Graduate Programmes.

More broadly, social mobility has a practical imperative for Macquarie, as it does all firms, points out Sarah Fennell, Head of Diversity and Inclusion for Macquarie in EMEA. “To remain competitive, we have to access the full talent market and not just a subset of it,” she says. “If you really want innovation and diversity of thought you need to attract and recruit people from different backgrounds, with different ways of thinking.”

While there is widespread support for social mobility across many companies in the UK, few financial services firms are incorporating it into broader Diversity and Inclusion initiatives, as Sarah adds. “We joined the Index to share our learning and to gain the benefit of best practice. As employers, we’re all trying to give those from less advantaged backgrounds a level playing field.”

Macquarie’s commitment to social mobility, she says, is integral to its vision as a company: “Our purpose is to ‘empower people to innovate and invest for a better future’ and we want that better future to offer something for everyone.”

Sally adds, “As we aim to cultivate innovation, we are looking to re-focus our recruitment strategies and how we offer opportunities going forward - to make the process more equitable. We don’t need to lower the bar, but we need to give people an equitable landscape.”