By Lorna Jones, Social Mobility Lead

I’ve always had a keen interest in social mobility and helping people to realise their ambitions regardless of their starting point in life, so to become Co-op’s first Social Mobility Lead was a really proud moment.

This week we’ll celebrate the first Social Mobility Awareness Day on 16 June. It’s an opportunity to raise awareness and understanding about an important facet of diversity, as the theme is What is Social Mobility? It’s more important than ever that as an organisation, we look to identify and understand more about the challenges people are currently facing to access opportunities.

It’s been widely documented how the cost of living increases are impacting people, but following the Covid pandemic, we know the gap between the most privileged and the most disadvantaged in society is growing too.

To make sure we’re focusing our efforts in the right places, we need to understand what our starting position really is. We can only do this by gathering as much accurate data as possible to allow us to make well informed decisions.

We started this process with the inclusion of some new questions in last year’s Talkback survey. These may have seemed a little unusual at the time, but by asking more about the kind of school you went to, if you accessed free school meals and about your parents’ occupations, it gave us the insight we needed to better understand our colleague make up. If we don’t know about the variety of different backgrounds and subsequent experiences or challenges our colleagues face, we can’t make any required changes for the future.

We understand why some colleagues found the questions uncomfortable to answer but the more accurate the data we hold, the more we can be sure we have the right processes in place to continue building a truly inclusive culture. One where everyone can access the right opportunities for them. This considers things like:

  • Certain people can face greater barriers to gaining employment than others. e.g. the long term unemployed, refugees starting over again or people with previous convictions
  • In some parts of the business, moving from entry level roles through to a more senior position is achievable. In others, this can feel really difficult as people tend to enter directly in a specialised, or senior role

Our vision of Co-operating for a fairer world is brought sharply into focus when considering social mobility. Our Co-op difference is firmly rooted in our local communities and this is a chance to let actions speak louder than words. Co-op offers a chance to show that people can thrive in their local communities, without having to leave home and move to a large city to pursue opportunities.

As we prepare for Social Mobility Awareness Day, the most important thing is to open up conversations, to be conscious that we all have different starting points and to challenge stigma and prejudice.

It’s an issue that’s bigger than Co-op, but like all businesses, we have a vital role to play in making change.  We don’t want to prescribe what success or progression looks like for our colleagues, but we can make sure we have the right tools, processes and opportunities in place that allow them to thrive.