Monday 8 July 2019 3:35 am

It’s time for aspiration and ability – not birth and background – to dictate progress

In the UK, our sense of fair play is a source of national pride.

We like to think that if you study hard at school and work hard in employment, opportunities are there for the taking.

We are, however, increasingly finding evidence to the contrary. 

Throughout the country, we see those at the top being drawn from a narrow background, and this is particularly acute in professional sectors such as finance, government, law, the military, medicine, journalism and film. 


Indeed, the chance of getting a well-paid job in a top profession is strongly linked with what your parents did and what school you went to. 

Without doubt, this is bad for business. When employees are drawn from a small talent pool, employers experience a lack of diversity, and evidence suggests that this results in less innovation, more “groupthink”, and reactive rather than proactive problem-solving.

But there is hope on the horizon. Employers across a range of sectors are increasingly realising that diversity of thought is good for business. Greater diversity in the workforce can bring benefits to the bottom line. 

To achieve this, the most forward-thinking and ambitious employers are changing what defines talent and adjusting their recruitment and progression procedures to secure a more diverse workforce.

Diversity improves business performance, and companies that integrate good practice around social mobility are reaping the rewards in terms of outcomes.

The City of London Corporation is the founding sponsor of the Social Mobility Employer Index, which recognises over 100 companies which are taking steps to address the inequality of opportunity that might exist in their organisations. Together, these firms employ over 1.1m people.

As part of our own social mobility strategy, we are working hard to build a sector-wide response to diversifying skills and talent in financial and professional services. This is crucial at a time when we face skills shortages and uncertainty around our future access to talent with Brexit on the horizon.


We have a rich talent pool with huge potential in this country, but people of all backgrounds must be able to access the opportunities that businesses offer. 

There is real momentum for change across society, and a hunger among young generations to work for firms that are socially responsible and embrace difference.

If the UK is to remain globally competitive, businesses across the country will need to ensure that they champion social mobility and diversity. Breaking the cycle of disadvantage from one generation to the next will require all businesses to act on this issue.

Organisational change takes time to embed and take effect, and changing social consciousness takes even longer.

Initiatives like the Social Mobility Employer Index are a fantastic start, but we know even more can be done. 

There is no doubt that we, as a nation, want aspiration and ability – not birth and background – to dictate progress in life, and it will take action by all firms to make this a reality.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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