Despite all the efforts in recent years to improve education and work opportunities, could it be that the system remains rigged in favor of those who have attended the right school, lived in the right neighborhood or have the right accent? ?
In Scotland, the aim of the National Strategy for Economic Transformation is to build an ‘enterprising nation’, a nation that harnesses and develops all talent and potential, regardless of origin.
For businesses, the competition for talent will only intensify. The need for diversity to stimulate innovation and growth is well established, but where will it come from? Are we really exploiting Scotland’s full potential – or could other factors be holding back progress?
A new study from Accenture which surveyed senior managers and employees across the UK – including 450 based in Scotland – may provide some clues. 1 It reveals that, despite all efforts, there remains a stigma attached to people from a disadvantaged socio-economic background. Not only does this hinder the career progression of individuals. This means 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+ company culture factors and engagement levels of employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. There were four key findings that companies might find surprising.
First, it is clear that senior executives often overestimate how inclusive and welcoming their corporate culture is. Our research found that 87% of executives think employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds feel included in the workplace, which is very similar to their estimate for all employees (89%). In fact, only 44% of these employees themselves feel included. Leaders are twice as optimistic as they should be.
Second, they are one-third less likely to be on a career “fast track”, defined as reaching
management level or above, at the age of 37.
Third, of the Scottish sample of employees, when asked if anyone ‘actively helps’ them to progress, only 1 in 5 employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds said yes, compared to 1 in 3 from their coworkers.
Finally, only half (52%) of employees report feeling “completely safe” when talking openly about their socio-economic environment at work. More than 1 in 8 people do not. When creating a more socially diverse workforce, it’s critical that employees feel seen, heard, and valued at work so they can thrive equally.
Ironically, 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 plan to stay with their employer. We call this the “progression paradox” and it is clear
emphasizes the importance for organizations to value and recognize all employees.
Yet only 1 in 5 organizations consider improving the socio-economic diversity of the workforce a top priority.
Less than a fifth have published a related target or objective.
What the Scottish data clearly shows is the demand for more mentoring in schools and
colleges for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, as well as more diverse careers
journey to and in work.
Many Scottish organizations are now actively pursuing relevant programs: 69% are taking part in mentoring programs or planning to do so in the next year, while 76% of Scottish employers surveyed are considering programs such as graduate apprenticeships .
There is a real cost to organizations that fail to see the importance of inclusion. Our research shows that the profits of organizations focused on social mobility are 1.4 times higher than their competitors.
So how should companies respond to this very real challenge? Although the results highlight that there is still a long way to go, there is evidence that organizations in Scotland are making conscious decisions about inclusivity and diversity.
They begin by creating a workplace socio-economic inclusion plan that involves the role
models, flexibility, openness and transparency, supported by anti-discriminatory practices
They expand it by bringing different attributes, skills and mindsets into the organization. And
they deepen it by enabling more of their employees to be more productive, more often.
In a workplace where employees feel included, they are more likely to be ambitious, engaged
and innovative. It therefore follows that the organizations that employ them are likely to see
productivity and performance gains.
David Caskie, Community and Corporate Citizenship Sponsor, Accenture Scotland