Everybody should have the opportunity to better their lives, but who you are – the background you come from – still matters too much for where you end up in work and in life. For example, a 25 year old from a low-income family could earn just under £2 less per hour than their better off peers. This is unacceptable.
It’s not only bad news for individuals, but bad for businesses. For companies, this means a lot of skills are going untapped which could give them a winning edge. In a world of diverse customers, firms need equally diverse workforces who understand their customers’ needs. And evidence suggests that having a range of people with different backgrounds and experiences can help firms make better business decisions.
If we are to create a society where business growth and opportunities for everyone are the reality, there’s more both businesses and government need to do to address this, starting in school.
That’s because education is the best tool to help people get on in life. The CBI’s report First steps showed that gaps in performance between children from high and low income backgrounds open up at a very early age and carry on as they move through school and into work. It’s the Government’s job to make sure our education system delivers for all young people by helping them develop key attitudes and behaviours needed for work and life as well as academic knowledge.
But businesses do have a role to play. From supporting teachers to offering work experience, many employers are already playing their part. Law firm Allen & Overy, for example co-founded Smart Start — an alliance of law firms and legal departments who have committed to widening access to careers in law.
Going back to before children even start school, the cost and quality of childcare matter. They can make a difference for new mothers in the workplace, but also affect how well their children do in school. Getting a good start is really crucial for everything that comes next.
Providing better quality, more affordable childcare is a job for government. But offering opportunities for flexible working can also help increase gender diversity in our workforce and is a job for business. 85% of firms already offer flexible working, letting many parents balance their caring responsibilities with their career ambitions.
The CBI wants to see more British businesses offering flexible working ‘as standard’ – and making this clear from the job advert onwards. Companies like Accenture and Eversheds have told us that they pride themselves on creating flexible careers and working patterns for parents.
How firms hire people also has a big role to play. At the moment only half of all work experience opportunities for example are advertised by word of mouth, making it harder for those without the necessary networks to locate these opportunities. And too often firms have concentrated on recruiting graduates only – and often from a narrow set of universities.
Business recognises that this means they are losing out on valuable talent, so luckily this is now starting to change. Barclays apprenticeship scheme for example has helped the firm access talent beyond its traditional intake and has been a huge success. The CBI wants to see more firms scrutinise how they hire people so that they are opening their doors to a wide range of people.
If businesses and government do all of this, then we can tackle the £2 per hour gap and become the socially mobile, diverse and inclusive, productive society that allows both business and individuals to thrive.
So what do you think? What are the barriers stopping people from all backgrounds getting on in work? Let is know in the comments below or tweet us @bizdebate