Time to hang up the old school tie

Justine Greening tells the PPA Festival why social mobility matters and what firms can do to help.

By James Evelegh

Time to hang up the old school tie
Justine Greening talking at the recent PPA Festival in London. Photograph: PPA

At a time when politicians are generally held in low regard, it’s refreshing to come across a seriously impressive one – Justine Greening, who spoke at the PPA Festival in May, about her pet project: social mobility.

Apparently, “only one in eight children from low-income backgrounds is likely to become a high-income earner as an adult,” and her Social Mobility Pledge campaign is aiming to put that right.

To paraphrase her message, social mobility in this country is very poor and we are all missing out by not utilising the talents of people from diverse backgrounds.

Too many firms, publishers included, are recruiting from a very narrow stratum of society, hiring people who look and sound the same, who share the same background and outlook and probably attended the same schools and universities.

Not only is this bad for social cohesion, it’s also bad for business, says Greening. Every company can play its part in putting this right, by:

  1. Being fair: ensuring they have non-discriminatory recruitment practices that don’t, intentionally or otherwise, screen out applicants on the basis of background, ethnicity or religion.
  2. Having an ongoing dialogue with schools – and not just the posh ones – about career opportunities; talking and engaging with potential future employees.
  3. Casting the next wider: looking beyond their traditional recruitment areas.
  4. Mentoring new recruits until they’re fully settled in – this might take some time.
  5. Being an open organisation that encourages inclusivity.
  6. And… signing up to the pledge.

Greening was keen to emphasise that businesses should see this as an investment, not a cost. In her view, being diverse and making money are inextricably linked.

A bright future awaits the country that gets it right. Wouldn’t it be nice if that was the UK…