Report Overview

Over the last few decades, there has been a welcome focus on improving diversity in the professional workforce, with many employers and industries working to remove barriers, including by gender, ethnicity and sexuality. In more recent years social mobility and socio-economic diversity in the workplace has begun to receive more attention.

This guide is aimed at employers looking for detailed advice to improve social mobility in the workplace, aimed both at those taking their first steps to improve socioeconomic diversity in their workforce, as well as giving practical tips and guidance for those who are already further into the process. The guide provides a companion to existing advice for businesses, including the Social Mobility Commission’s Employer Toolkit.

It covers a wide range of issues, from how to measure the socio-economic make-up of your workforce, through to contextual recruitment and best practice advice on routes into the workplace for young people, including internships and apprenticeships.

We have also published an impact brief looking specifically at the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on graduate recruitment: Covid 19 Impacts: Access to the Workplace. 

This guide was updated in November 2020 to reflect changes in best practice on measuring socio-economic background in the workplace.

Note: Rare recruitment’s contextual admissions system has been updated since this guide was published. Alongside flags, candidates are given a Performance Index (PI), a measure of academic outperformance based on what a candidate achieved at KS5 level compared to their school average that year. They no longer use university results to contextualise performance. Paid for versions can both be integrated into existing recruitment systems or non-integrated.

People in Britain’s top jobs are five more likely to have attended a private school than the general population.


The proportion of internships which are unpaid.


If social mobility in the UK increased to the average level in Western Europe, GDP could be roughly 2% higher.

Our five top tips for improving social mobility

Measuring socio-economic diversity

By measuring the socio-economic background of your workforce, you will be able to:

• See any gaps in applications, hires, progression or retention
• Target initiatives to improve diversity
• Track progress over time

We recommend you ask questions on the following:

• Parental occupation
• Parental education
• School type attended
• Free school meal eligibility

Build a talent pipeline

Create diverse routes into your workplace by:

• Paying and openly advertising internships and work experience placements
• Making use of apprenticeships to open up new routes into the workplace

Improve recruitment practices

To make sure you are finding top talent, regardless of background:

• Where possible, put in place contextual recruitment practices
• Ensure recruitment practices are open and transparent
• Have honest conversations about talent

Keep and nurture talent

To give all your employees, regardless of background, equal opportunity to succeed within your organisation:

• Monitor class pay gaps
• Ensure promotion and work allocation processes are fair
• Create an inclusive, welcoming culture that celebrates diversity and different viewpoints

Looking outside of your workplace

Working with young people in schools, universities and further education colleges can help to broader their horizons and open up opportunities.

To make the largest impact:

• Where possible, go through an organisation already working with young people – they can ensure students have sustained engagement with employers and target support where it is most needed
• Look beyond your local area
• When working with schools, take your lead from teachers – they know their pupils best
• Consider widening the range of universities you recruit from
• Think about financial barriers – for example the cost of attending an industry insight day