Press release

Top firms to be ranked on social mobility

New index showcases companies which access talent from all backgrounds.


Britain’s top businesses will be ranked for the first time on how open they are to accessing talent from all backgrounds, under a joint initiative announced today (24 October 2016) by the Social Mobility Foundation and Social Mobility Commission.

The Social Mobility Employers’ Index gives firms the opportunity to showcase real progress they are making towards improving social mobility by ensuring they recruit the best people for the job - regardless of their social background.

Research has consistently shown that people from more affluent backgrounds, who attend private schools and elite universities, take a disproportionate number of the best jobs.

Many major companies have taken positive action to tackle this and remove hurdles for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds who have the talent, but lack the network of guidance, support and connections to get ahead.

The index is an important benchmarking initiative targeted at ‘elite’ sectors which, traditionally, have low rates of social mobility - such as law, accountancy, media, banking and finance and the sciences.

The aim is to encourage firms to compete to remove hurdles to find the best and brightest candidates - whatever their background - and to reveal which sectors and companies are taking the issue of social mobility most seriously.

To take part, firms will answer a range of questions about their practices and procedures in areas such as recruitment, selection and progression. They will be ranked by a respected panel of experts and receive recommendations for areas for improvement.

The stand-out ‘winner’ in each category and firm that has most improved its approach will be announced in spring next year - along with the final rankings.

David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

Having competed to make progress in other areas of diversity such as gender, race and LGBT, businesses have been turning their minds to how to make their organisations open to top talent from lower socio-economic groups.

This index is a direct response to their requests to know how to benchmark the actions they take against what the leading firms are doing, and learn how they can ensure they recruit and promote those with the greatest potential, rather than those with the greatest connections or polish.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, Chair of the Social Mobility Commission, added:

Many top firms are doing excellent work in opening their doors to people from all social backgrounds. We want the index to herald a step change towards improving social mobility by encouraging many more employers to compete to recruit, and keep, the best and brightest candidates.

The index is not designed to be a ‘name and shame’ exercise. All firms will be entitled to remain anonymous and firms which fail to make the final rankings will not be named.

Firms will be able to enter different categories to recognise the vast range of practices and approaches that many are adopting to tackle social mobility issues. There will be a range of supplementary materials to help firms, including describing what best practice looks like.

The index questionnaire has been developed in consultation with, and following feedback from social mobility experts and major employers. Categories include:

  • working with young people - well-evaluated programmes that reach beyond the doorstep of the office to all of the country’s talent, and which provide routes into the employer/profession for those that have the interest and aptitude
  • routes into work - well-structured non-graduate routes that provide genuine parity of esteem and comparable progression to graduate ones
  • attraction - innovative ways of reaching beyond graduates of the usual 5 to 10 universities many top employers focus their efforts on
  • recruitment and selection - evidence that the employer:
    • removes hurdles that will disproportionately affect those from lower socio-economic groups
    • is moving to a system that judges potential rather than past academic performance or polish
  • data collection - rigorous analysis of the profile of the workforce and of measures taken to improve its diversity
  • progression - effective strategies that help those from lower socio-economic groups get on rather than just get in
  • internal/external advocacy - action to get more of their staff involved in efforts to improve social mobility and to get suppliers/peer firms to also take action

Notes for editors

The Social Mobility Foundation

  1. The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) is a charity which aims to make practical improvement in social mobility for young people from low-income backgrounds.
  2. It runs free-of-charge programmes of mentoring, internships, university application support (including trips to universities and help with personal statements, aptitude tests and interviews) and career and skills workshops to support young people through their sixth-form and university years.
  3. Currently taking on a new cohort of over 1,200 young people every year, the SMF has offices in Birmingham, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Newcastle and runs residential programmes for young people from the Isle of Wight to the Western Isles of Scotland across 11 career sectors (accountancy, architecture, banking and finance, biology and chemistry, business, engineering and physics, law, media and communications, medicine, politics, and technology).

The Social Mobility Commission

  1. The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010 as modified by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. It currently consists of four commissioners and is supported by a small secretariat.
  2. The commission board currently comprises:
    • Alan Milburn (Chair)
    • Baroness Gillian Shephard (Deputy Chair)
    • Paul Gregg, Professor of Economic and Social Policy, University of Bath
    • David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation
  3. The functions of the commission include:
    • monitoring progress on improving social mobility
    • providing published advice to ministers on matters relating to social mobility
    • undertaking social mobility advocacy

For further information, please contact:

Kirsty Walker, the Social Mobility Commission, on 020 7227 5371 / 07768 446167 or

Emily Hodgson, Social Mobility Foundation, on 0207 183 1189 or

Published 24 October 2016