Social Mobility Committee report and what it means
The new Social Mobility Committee Report into the Civil Service is a fascinating read. Here's the lowdown...
Last Thursday, the Social Mobility Committee published the report “Navigating the labyrinth: Socio-economic background and career progression within the Civil Service.” The 88 page report is the first ever independent, data-driven investigation of how socio-economic background (SEB) shapes career progression in the Civil Service. As one of the country’s largest employers, employing 445,480 people across the United Kingdom, it is a vital investigation.
The report’s findings demonstrate the urgent need to put class and socio-economic inclusivity at the centre of this drive toward inclusion and fairness. For example, the collected data demonstrates that just 18% of the Senior Civil Service (SCS) come from disadvantaged backgrounds, compared with 72% from privileged backgrounds.
This blog post highlights the report’s key findings and examines what we in the private sector can do to drive positive change through social mobility.
Breaking down the Social Mobility Committee report
“The labyrinth:” The report demonstrates a strong ‘progression gap’ within the Civil Service. To reflect how those from a lower socio-economic background are marginalised, author Friedman coins this complexity as a ‘labyrinth,’ “this reflects both the size and complexity of the Civil Service and the fact that progression is rarely simple or direct.”
The report identifies the following as key barriers to progression for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds:
1. “Accelerator roles” and organisational guides
2. Exploiting organisation ambiguity
3. The London Vortex and the ‘Whitehall effect’
4. Occupational specialisation
5. Dominant behavioural codes
6. Downplaying privilege
Key findings from the report
The Senior Civil Service (SCS) has remained exclusive.
- The composition of the SCS is roughly unchanged since 1967, the last time this data was collected. Then, 19% were from low socio-economic backgrounds and 67% from privileged backgrounds – although this finding should be read with caution, as it partly reflects the contraction of working-class jobs since the 1960s.
Some departments are more exclusive than others.
- HM Treasury and the (formerly named) Department of Culture, Media and Sport are the most socio-economically exclusive departments (12% and 13% of staff were from low SEBs respectively). Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs are the most inclusive departments (45% and 42% of staff were from low SEBs respectively).
- 26% of HM Treasury staff and 22% of the (formerly named) Foreign & Commonwealth Office staff (rising to 48% among FCO SCS) were privately educated, compared to just 5% in HMRC and 4% in the DWP.
Civil servants from advantaged backgrounds often downplay their socio-economic privilege.
- 1 in 4 civil servants who self-assess as coming from low SEBs actually had advantaged upbringings. The proportion of those misaligning increases at higher grades (29% at SCS versus 23% and 24% at executive officer and administrative assistant/officer levels).
Female civil servants from working class backgrounds are more likely than men from the same socio-economic bracket to believe their background will hamper their progression.
- There is little difference in the overall socio-economic composition of male and female civil servants, but low SEB women are more under-represented at senior grades. For instance, women in the SCS are more likely than men to be from high SEBs (73% compared to 71%).
Ethnic minorities in low socio-economic backgrounds face barriers getting into the civil service.
- Except for those of Asian origin, civil servants from ethnic minorities are more likely to be from advantaged socio-economic backgrounds. For example, 27% of Black African/African Caribbean AA/AOs are from low SEBs compared to 61% from high SEBs.
The Action Plan
Alongside the report, the Social Mobility Committee have published a complementary action plan: “Action plan: How to improve socio-economic progression within the Civil Service.”
The following fourteen key recommendations outline a set of practical recommendations to improve socio-economic diversity and inclusion in the Civil Service.
- Establish a cross-departmental workforce strategy to improve socio-economic diversity and inclusion within the Civil Service, with delivery at a local level in departments. The Cabinet Office should have responsibility for overseeing and ensuring effective implementation.
- Introduce workforce-wide reporting on socio-economic background.
- Use training and ‘learning and development’ to drive positive change.
- Use apprenticeships to drive your strategy.
- Increase representation of senior civil servants (SCS) from low SEBs.
- Equalise access to accelerator roles.
- Formalise the informal.
- Think beyond Whitehall.
- Demystify the policy profession.
- Break the taboo around social class.
- Start a conversation about talent.
- Focus on cumulative barriers to progression for low SEB women and ethnic minorities.
- Create legal protection.
- Parliament should consider permanently adopting virtual working trialled during COVID-19, to enable MPs and Ministers to be based for more of the time in their constituencies or elsewhere in the UK.
What can the private sector take away?
In the past year, most organisations have made strides towards inclusive recruitment, however, as the report demonstrates, there is much progress to be made in ensuring that organisations follow through with creating and maintaining inclusive environments. As Steven Cooper, interim Co-Chair of the Social Mobility Commission said in relation to the report’s findings: “Civil servants from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly under-represented in the organisation and even if they do ‘get in’ they can struggle to ‘get on.’”
At the Social Mobility Commission report launch Louise Ashley, Senior Lecturer, Royal Holloway University suggested that in order to ensure organisations follow through with inclusivity, they “formalise the informal” (See Action Plan 7). One of the strongest barriers to progression Friedman highlights are the ‘organisational guides’ who advantage the privileged. The ‘organisational guides’ act as gatekeepers and operate on an informal manner throughout companies. They enable certain individuals to access organisational hidden rules to progress through the company. As Ashley points out, removing these informal practices and standardising career progression procedures will allow for equal opportunity across an organisation.
The practice of “formalising the informal” is one key takeaway the private sector can take. For example, organisations can ensure this by embedding the following practices: peer to peer mentoring schemes, work shadowing programmes, internal training schemes and regular performance reviews. Collecting internal data and carrying out audits or collecting employee feedback will evidence your company’s success at driving positive change through social mobility.
Social mobility and the Social Value Model
Finally, private sector organisations who wish to sell to the public sector should be aware of how the new report relates to the Social Value Model (SVM).
With the aim of maximising the societal benefits that can be achieved through procurement opportunities and in the delivery of subsequent contracts, the Government launched the Social Value Model (Procurement Policy Note (PPN) 06/20) in September 2020. The SVM is to be used in future Central Government procurement activities. What this means for suppliers is that they will have to answer a social value question when responding to future tenders and framework applications.
So, how does the new report “Navigating the labyrinth: Socio-economic background and career progression within the Civil Service” published by the Social Mobility Committee relate to the SVM? The findings and key recommendations in the Social Mobility Committee’s report correlates with two themes within the Social Value Model.
Firstly, the report relates to theme two of the Social Value Model, which seeks to tackle economic equality through the creation of new businesses, new jobs and new skills. And secondly, it relates to theme four, which seeks to promote equal opportunity by tackling workforce inequality. Therefore, it is recommended that suppliers should use the report and its findings to reflect on their own practices, especially when responding to opportunities relating to themes two and four of the SVM.