Despite all the effort made in recent years to level up educational and work opportunities, could it be that the system remains rigged in favour of those who went to the right school, lived in the right area or have the right accent?
In Scotland, the National Strategy for Economic Transformation’s aim is to build an ‘enterprising nation’, one that taps into and develops all talent and potential, regardless of background.
For businesses, the competition for talent is only set to increase. The need for diversity to spark innovation and growth is well proven but where will it come from? Are we really harnessing all the potential Scotland has – or could other factors be slowing progress?
New research by Accenture which surveyed senior leaders and employees UK-wide – including, 450 based in Scotland – might give some clues. 1 It reveals that, despite all efforts, there remains a stigma attached to those from a lower socioeconomic background. Not only is this hindering individuals’ career progression. It means that companies could be missing out on talent and potential.
We used an econometric model, developed over the past three years, to quantify the relationship between 40+ workplace culture factors and the levels of engagement of lower socioeconomic background employees. There were four key findings that companies may find surprising.
First, it’s clear that senior staff often overestimate how inclusive and welcoming their company culture is. Our research found 87 per cent of executives believe employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds feel included in the workplace – very similar to their estimate for all employees (89 per cent). In reality, just 44 per cent of those employees themselves feel included. Executives are twice as optimistic as they should be.
Second, they are a third less likely to be on a career “fast-track”, defined as reaching
managerial level or above, by the age of 37.
Third, across the sample of Scottish employees, when asked if anyone was ‘actively helping’ them advance, only 1 in 5 employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds answered yes, compared to 1 in 3 of their colleagues.
Finally, just half (52 per cent) of employees say they feel “completely safe” being open about their socioeconomic background in the workplace. More than 1 in 8 don’t. When building a more socially diverse workforce, it’s vital that employees feel seen, heard and valued at work so that they can thrive equally.
Ironically, the research also suggests that employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds
tend to be more satisfied with the pace of their career development – and slightly more likely to be planning to stay with their employer. We call this the “progression paradox” and it clearly
underlines the importance for organisations to value and recognise all employees.
Yet just 1 in 5 organisations view improving socioeconomic workforce diversity as a top priority.
Fewer than a fifth have published a related target or goal.
What the Scottish data shows clearly is the demand for more mentorships in schools and
colleges for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, alongside more diverse career
pathways into and within work.
Many Scottish organisations are now actively pursuing relevant programmes: 69 per cent are either involved in or plan to start mentoring schemes within the next year, while 76 per cent of Scottish employers surveyed are looking at schemes such as graduate apprenticeships.
There is an actual cost for organisations that don’t see the importance of inclusion. Our research shows that the profits of organisations focusing on social mobility are 1.4 times higher than their competitors.
So how should businesses respond to this very real challenge? While the findings highlight that there is some way to go, there is evidence that organisations in Scotland are making conscious decisions about inclusivity and diversity.
They start by creating a blueprint for socioeconomic workplace inclusion that involves role
models, flexibility, openness and transparency, supported by practical anti-discrimination
They broaden it by bringing different attributes, skills and mindsets into the organisation. And
they deepen it by allowing more of their people to be more productive, more of the time.
In a workplace where employees feel included, they are more likely to be ambitious, engaged
and innovative. It follows, therefore, that the organisations employing them are likely to see
productivity and performance benefits.
David Caskie, Community and Corporate Citizenship Sponsor, Accenture in Scotland