Focusing on fair access to the professions, panellists discussed the considerable challenges for graduates from disadvantaged backgrounds of getting into certain jobs and moving up the career ladder once there.
Dr Ashley (Royal Holloway) set out the statistics which show that certain occupations, such as law and accountancy, have workforces which are not as inclusive as they should be, with considerable barriers “to getting entry and getting on.” She highlighted unequal access to education, recruitment processes which advantage certain backgrounds (such as focussing recruitment activities on Russell Group universities), and differential rates of career progression.
“A sense of entitlement is seen as confidence when it comes to finding a job,” said Amanda Parker (English, 1987) calling for a change of the model of what we think is ‘normal’ in recruitment. A need for workplaces to have safe spaces where race, class and culture could be discussed is important she added, and companies should flag inconsistent behaviour in the way employees are treated. She added that unconscious bias training should be mandatory for anyone who manages a team.
Warden of Wadham College, Ken Macdonald QC, highlighted the low incomes awarded to those starting out in careers in law, thus favouring those who have other means of supporting themselves.
Following the publication of data showing inequalities such as gender pay gaps, it is important for companies to publish action plans and then share good practice said Laura Hinton, Chief People Officer, PwC UK. As the largest private sector graduate recruiter in the UK, Hinton outlined the various programmes that PwC has put in place to improve access. These include the Flying Start degree programme where students have paid work experience during degree courses, and a number of work experience programmes. She also described an artificial intelligence screening process which PwC is piloting alongside the interview process in order to take bias out of the recruitment procedures. “There are good commercial reasons for being more diverse and inclusive”, she added.
Addressing the issues of fair access to the workplace and achievement within a company, Warren East CBE, Chief Executive Officer, Rolls-Royce (Engineering, 1980) reiterated the need for companies to publish action plans. “I am a fan of having an action plan that delivers over a sensible period of time,” he said. Rolls-Royce recruits some 200 graduates and 600 apprentices a year and the company is supporting degree apprenticeship schemes. “Our graduates and apprentices then act as ambassadors going into schools to encourage pupils and teachers,” he added.
Organisational culture which can be exclusive, creating a sense of ‘otherness’ in those that don’t conform to a white, middle-class, male ‘normal’ needs to be discussed openly added Ashley in response to an audience question.
Quotas, mentoring opportunities and using technology to improve recruitment processes were among the ideas discussed by the panel members with the 100 strong audience in a discussion facilitated by Melvyn Bragg (History, 1958).
Wadham’s Senior Tutor, Dr Caroline Mawson, outlined how the College is working closely with Oxford’s Careers’ Service to assist students with internship opportunities and mentoring as they prepare to enter the workforce. Working with the Bridge Group, a social mobility think-tank, Wadham is looking to identify the most impactful ways to support the College’s diverse student body on the entire educational journey, and building understanding between universities and employers is a key priority when it comes to successful graduate employment.
Introducing Wadham’s 2018 Impact Report, setting out the access and outreach work that has been conducted by the College over the past year and the momentum that has been achieved over a relatively short time, East stressed the importance of increasing general understanding of social mobility issues and the benefits to society of making changes. “Inclusion is a two-way process – nothing gets done unless you do something about it,” he concluded. He thanked fellow alumni for providing Wadham with the funding to carry out this essential work.
Praising Wadham’s commitment to social mobility, Andrew Boucher, Partner at PwC, who generously hosted the summit, apologised on behalf of Former Education Minister, Justine Greening MP, who was called to Parliament to debate the Heathrow third runway which will directly affect her Putney constituents.