The importance of an open and fair workplace

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Social mobility is essentially about providing a fair and open workplace where everyone can thrive and everyone has a level-playing field when it comes to work opportunities.

Pete Ward, deputy CEO and operations director at Leadership Through Sport & Business (LTSB), says: “It’s about talented people getting the opportunity to do jobs equal to their ambition and ability. But beyond the moral case, there’s a clear business case too. The more representative a workforce, the more diverse its leadership, the more effective and profitable the company,” he notes.

So how can employers incorporate social mobility into their workplace and make it part of their business strategy?

It starts with recruitment

“When the overriding criteria for recruitment is “Will they fit in?”, that can quickly become “Are they like everyone else who works here?” which means it’s really hard to change the make-up of an organisation,” says Ward. It’s a matter of recognising the virtue and value of difference, rather than imagining it as a barrier to a cohesive team. The return on investment is, says Ward, limitless.

“When you give an opportunity to diverse young people who wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to show what they can do, they repay that faith with loyalty and their talent!” he notes.

Look in different places

‘If you’re looking for different types of people, you need to look in different places – and, if possible, adjust entry criteria,” says Ward. “Recruit through charities such, or through colleges. Does the role really require a degree? With the cost of university education rising dramatically, really talented young people, intimidated by debt, are looking elsewhere. Are you dismissing this talent pool unnecessarily?”

Get your policies and procedures up to date

As a starting point, businesses need to have all their policies and procedures relating to equality, diversity, bullying, harassment and discrimination up to date, says James Tamm, director of Legal Services at Ellis Whittam. ‘Employers should also train staff on the importance of a diverse and inclusive workplace, and create an atmosphere where employees feel able to report behaviour that violates these values as they know concerns will be acted upon. If in doubt, seek advice from an HR or employment law specialist,” he notes.

What about including staff with disabilities?

Liz Johnson, co-founder and managing director of The Ability People, says the task of incorporating and including people with disabilities starts the moment the new job becomes available.“SMEs should look at basic areas like the accessibility of their website careers page and application process and not ask people to disclose a disability, so they are judged on ‘level playing field,’” she notes.

“Those with a disability will disclose it if relevant at the appropriate time, and employers should consider how to adjust the interview and selection process to give each candidate the best opportunity to showcase their skills and experience.”

Don’t forget about neurodiversity

Having a neurodiverse workforce, in other words, one which includes people with autism, dyslexia or ADHD, can also unlock a whole new area of talent and expertise, says Johnson. “Those with different life experiences bring with them fresh perspectives, creativity and ways of thinking which enable companies to assess ideas and ensure they don’t miss out on valuable new opportunities,” she notes.

“Members of the neurodiverse community have great strengths and skills in specific areas far beyond other candidates and if given the opportunity to showcase those talents, they will become outstanding contributors.”

Think about the legal obligations

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must also make “reasonable adjustments” to ensure disabled workers are not seriously disadvantaged when fulfilling their role. “For example, you may consider changing their equipment, installing a ramp for a wheelchair user or retraining the employee,” says Tamm.

“Other adjustments are less obvious but still as important, such as adjusting absence procedures if the reasons for sickness related to a disability.”

Don’t overlook mental health

Alison King, managing director at Bespoke HR says mental health is often described as an invisible disability, which many employers are unaware of unless the employee tells them. “If staff are working in an environment where it’s hard to raise concerns (about themselves or others), then it’s more than likely that absence rates will increase,” she notes. “

For employers who can create awareness amongst staff about the signs and symptoms, this creates an open culture for staff and can help to break the stigma attached to mental health issues.”

Leadership Through Sport & Business is a social mobility charity that gives bright young people from disadvantaged backgrounds access to meaningful work with major firms. If you’re an employer in London, Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester and are interested in recruiting a positive and effective apprentice for entry-level positions, get in touch at [email protected]

In summary

Social mobility is about everyone giving everyone, regardless of whether they have any form of disability or don’t conform to neurotypical expectations, an equal opportunity and chance to contribute. The more diverse the workforce, the greater the reward.

For more on social mobility and the benefits of a diverse workplace:

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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