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Letter: social mobility needs employers

8 Apr 19

Some practical steps through which employers can be more proactive

Social mobility work can’t just be left to families, schools and government. Employers have a key role to play.

This was one of the key points raised by a speaker that stuck with me in a recent social mobility seminar I attended. Workplaces are the ultimate destination when it comes to the recruitment pipeline, so without the involvement of our employers, there will always be a limit to progress with social mobility.

Can I encourage more to take a proactive approach? There are practical steps you can take. Getting involved with your local schools is one way. School pupils need to know who solicitors are in their communities, and meet role models, to raise aspirations at an earlier stage. It needs to be more obvious that the legal profession isn’t a distant enigma, but full of real people who work everywhere in Scotland. For those aspiring to build their own teams, a broader understanding of what young potential talent looks like away from your usual place of work might be a valuable exercise. For others, it’s a great way to give back to the community generally and support the next generation of solicitors. From a business perspective, clients continue to demand evidence of proactive fair recruitment practices.

You can of course become involved through the Society, as a careers ambassador, debate judge, or speaker at one of our Legal Studies and Careers days. Alternatively, you can forge your own links with schools, as an individual or as an employer, for example by taking part in a careers fair, running an assembly or classroom talk, or holding a taster session at a school or in your office about what it’s like to work as a solicitor. The Society can provide a pack including leaflets aimed at school pupils.

A recent study of the legal profession from The Bridge Group shows that those from lower socio- economic backgrounds are likely to be the highest performers in their firms – but are also less likely to be retained in the first few years of their careers. This is primarily rooted in the way firms define talent. Assessing talent and potential will start in your recruitment process, but continuing to collect data will allow you to assess how good practice is carried through and give you a much clearer picture of whether you are successfully establishing an inclusive workplace culture.

A great example was used at the seminar from a large accounting firm, who wanted to understand more about the issue of favouritism in the workplace. Tracking the staff resourcing across client jobs helped the firm really understand the core issue of teams being built in a manager’s image. The firm was then able to tackle fair access to work and support the career progression of employees who were previously overlooked.

Thinking proactively about what works for your own organisation should result in a more meaningful and positive data gathering exercise.

Olivia Parker, interim head of Careers & Outreach, Law Society of Scotland

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