Last year, Futureboard Consulting commissioned a report to understand graduate recruiters’ perspective on social mobility. The report found there was a clash between their wish to repeat past success in their profession and increasing diversity in the candidate pool. Tracking diversity in the application process also proved to be a problem. One year on, we talked to some experts to see if this situation has changed. By Carolina Are
According to the Equality Act 2010, the public sector has a “duty to address the inequality that stems from socio-economic disadvantage.” However, the 2012 Wilson Review on business-university collaboration said: “The recruitment processes used by the largest graduate recruiters are highly selective… but have the potential to deliver outcomes that may be wholly inconsistent with company diversity policies.”
The ‘Graduate Recruiters’ Perspectives on Socio-Economic Diversity’ report was written by Zein, a LSE MSc Student and commissioned by Futureboard. It was based on 39 telephone interviews, asking 20 candidates,15 graduate recruiters and four heads of university Careers services about their perspectives on socio-economic diversity in the hiring process.
The report found that, out of the recruiters who discussed their policies, only four tracked candidates’ socio-economic status, eight didn’t and two said they would have in the future. This was mostly caused by uncertainty in how to track diversity in a non-intrusive way.
The report said that, because of the high amount of graduates entering the job market, the “absence of qualifications and in particular the failure to attend an elite institution” may influence the perception of a candidate’s worth in the hiring process. The report said access to superior educational opportunities may depend on parental influence and social class.
Andrew Berwick from tutoring charity The Access Project said: “It’s important to track information about candidates to include people from different socio-economic backgrounds in the workplace. Some firms, like Clifford Chance, have lately adopted a blind CV policy for that purpose.”
However, according to Berwick, recruitment teams in larger organisations are more likely to consider if the candidate would fit in with the existing staff members rather than focus on diversity. He said: “They will also wonder: can I put this person in front of a client? There is a bias: it’s not conscious, but it’s bias nonetheless.”
To track candidates’ socio-economic status, the report commissioned by Futureboard focused on:
1) Parental occupation;
2) Household income;
3) Type of secondary school attended;
4) First generation [of university attendance], considering whether the candidates were the first in their families to attend university;
5) Eligibility for free school meals (FSM).
Although most recruiters interviewed confirmed they used the First Generation question, results showed that uncertainty in how to track socio-economic status still prevents the recruitment industry from increasing diversity in the candidate pool.
A recruiter included in the research said some questions are considered too intrusive to be asked: “You obviously don’t want to ask anything that’s too personal. So we wouldn’t ask a question about what their income is or salary… I think that most students wouldn’t feel comfortable answering that.”
The 2009‘Unleashing Aspirations’report by Alan Milburn highlighted the social mobility barriers to professions in the United Kingdom. It suggested the current hiring process focusing on UCAS points is threatening the chance of a more diverse candidate pool in UK companies.
The Milburn report said: “All employers should stop this practice immediately, as it is both discriminatory and unlikely to be effective as a tool for identifying potential.”
In such a competitive job market, “Your social class, ethnicity, weight, and age can all be gleaned from the first 10 seconds of watching you,” warned Carla Cotterell, founder of UK CV Experts, on Guardian Careers.
Andrew Berwick said: “Someone needs to support students but it’s not necessarily universities’ jobs. It’s not clear whose job it is, but it makes sense for organisations like UpReach [which helps students access top jobs and promotes diversity in the workplace] to be there.”
Henry Morris, Founder and Chief Executive of upReach, said: “As a sector, graduate recruitment can and should do better.”
According to Morris, increasing diversity should be a “settled belief” in organisational cultures, not just something for recruitment teams. He said: “Every candidate is different, so we need to make progress on understanding candidates’ social background and educational achievement in context.”
The report commissioned by Futureboard suggested recruiters should use at least two tracking questions during applications or implement blind candidate assessment like Clifford Chance did this year.
The report said: “There may be value in not giving assessors access to biographical information such as the schools and university a candidate attended. […] Class indicators such as accent, dialect, style of dress etc. are easily observable, making it difficult to guard against unconscious bias.”
The Charity Professions For Good launched The Social Mobility Toolkit for the Professions last year. The toolkit is a common framework to measure the progress of social mobility within jobs.
The toolkit, researched and developed by Spada on behalf of Professions for Good, surveyed 300 professionals and 50 representatives from universities, membership bodies, NGOs, regulators and Government departments. It provides practical recommendations for organisations of all sizes, professional bodies and regulators on how they can track social mobility.
The 52-page toolkit provides best-practice advice on how to collect and process data on social mobility and how organisations can diversify the socio-economic profile of their members and employees.
Louis Armstrong, Chairman of Professions for Good, said more can be done to attract individuals from every strata of society in the UK’s job market. He said: “The toolkit is ready. It now needs to be used. Over time we will all benefit: individuals when aspirations can be fulfilled and the professions as they access the widest range of talent available.”