The way we work: tackling the myth of social mobility

By Russell Gundry, head of innovation strategy, Plexal

It’s tempting to cling to the idea that Britain is a meritocracy where the brightest minds and the hardest working are rewarded with the best jobs and opportunities, and that where you start in life doesn’t determine where you end up. But that’s not always the case. Social exclusion, inequality and a lack of social mobility are some of our biggest challenges – and a combination of Brexit, an ageing population and automation are only going to make them more pronounced, while machine learning is in danger of locking in bias.

According to the Social Mobility Commission’s sixth annual State of the Nation report, we’ve made little progress on advancing social mobility since 2014, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has recently announced that the party will now be pursuing social justice for all as a mission instead of social mobility, saying:

“For decades we’ve been told that inequality doesn’t matter because the education system will allow talented and hard-working people to succeed whatever their background.

“The idea that only a few talented or lucky people deserve to escape the disadvantage they were born into, leaving in place a social hierarchy in which millions are consigned to the scrap heap, results in the talents of millions of children being squandered.”

It’s tempting to agree with him. When you look at the entrepreneurs getting the funding, and the makeup of leadership teams, they’re not representative of what the rest of society looks like. Our job ads, interview practices, employment policies, and workplaces can be off-putting to people from under-represented groups.  Sometimes ‘off-putting’ is actually just ‘discriminatory’. Consider that:

Almost one in ten (8%) of non-native workers in the UK have had to leave a job because they felt they didn’t fit in.

Recent research shows that women and minorities are often punished more harshly for the same mistakes compared to others.

Disabled people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as non-disabled people.

There are one million people aged over 50 who aren’t working, but would be willing to work if the right opportunity arose.

After over three decades, ethnic minority employment is at a record high (66.5%), but before we pat ourselves on the back it’s worth pointing out that the UK-wide employment rate is now 76.1%.

There’s clearly a lot of work to be done.

Apply for our OpenDoor inclusion accelerator 

At Plexal, we’re looking to the innovation community – especially people with first-hand experiences of exclusion – to shake up our archaic working practices.

OpenDoor is our inclusion accelerator that will support products, services and projects that can make work more inclusive. This could relate to inclusion in workplaces, careers, finding employment or supporting entrepreneurs from diverse and under-represented backgrounds.

We chose work as the focus area for our pilot programme because what we do for a living is so closely tied up with our sense of self and purpose, as well as our role in society. It’s also an unequal sphere where exclusion is often hidden from plain sight – even in workplaces that are trying their hardest to be genuinely diverse.

The way we work is ripe for disruption. So if you – or someone you know – has a great proposition and want help to develop and grow it, we urge you to apply.