I was very interested to read this article in Third Sector Magazine last week about the extent of the social mobility challenge in the voluntary sector. 

At Anthony Collins Solicitors, we work with many charities that are actively considering their socio-economic diversity and ensuring their internal work and structure reflect the external work that they do. I have seen some fantastic work in this area. However, we acknowledge that others are looking to do more.   

Unlike many other professions, careers in the voluntary sector can often lack a defined structure in the same way as, for example, professional services. This can mean that whether an individual has a certain level of cultural capital can have a strong influence on whether they get ahead. The issue is that this cultural capital is often developed from experiences that may have very little to do with someone's core skillset or their ability to perform a certain role and has a clear link with socio-economic background. In practice, this could mean that things like where someone buys clothes from or has been on holiday are unconsciously given more weight than they should - which is not conducive to good employment practice. 

Sarah Atkinson, the CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, has articulated this very well. She says: 

“There’s something particularly about sectors like charity, where jobs are both high-status and low-income. Those factors are typically predictors of how easy it is to fit in and get on – we also see this in journalism, the creative industries, non-charitable international development, politics and think tanks.”

“We also have the complexity of a massive emphasis on showing your commitment to the cause, which very often means having done unpaid work, or working over and above your time, and if that’s not affordable then you’re stuck.”

If charities and voluntary organisations are not staffed with a diverse range of people who have different insights to bring, this may impact their ability to achieve their objectives in the best way. For example, if a social mobility charity does not employ and develop staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds, then how can it truly address the barriers that individuals may face in their career journeys?

For those in the voluntary sector who want to do even more in this area, there are a number of things that I would recommend.

First and foremost, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of data collection. This is the key first step to understanding the extent of the issues. On that front, I would encourage you to engage with the Social Mobility Foundation's Employer Index. The 2022 Index is currently open for submissions. 

I would also encourage you to register for a copy of our social mobility toolkit, which contains a range of practical resources that you can utilise to help you implement your strategies. For those involved in the arts or creative industries, the Social Mobility Commission has also produced a toolkit that may be useful. 

If you are looking for bespoke support on improving social mobility in your organisation then do get in touch and I am happy to help.