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Co-op campaigns to break the ‘class ceiling’

Co-op is taking action to break the ‘Class Ceiling’, as new research has found that a significant number of people believe that what they achieve in… View Article


Co-op campaigns to break the ‘class ceiling’

Co-op is taking action to break the ‘Class Ceiling’, as new research has found that a significant number of people believe that what they achieve in life is dictated by their background.

Nearly a fifth (17%) of UK adults believe they have missed out on a job due to their background, accent or social status (Walnut Unlimited), with a tenth (10%) of people revealing that they have been teased for their accent (Walnut Unlimited). As a result, a quarter (26%) have changed the way they look for a job interview (Walnut Unlimited) and a tenth (11%, Walnut Unlimited) have changed the way they speak at work.

The research by ICM with over 8,500 people conducted on behalf of Co-op, looks at the experiences, life chances and impact of social mobility on young people and adults across the UK (ICM). Over two-fifths (41%) of young people believe what they achieve in life is determined by their socio-economic background (ICM). Over a third (34%) feel it is determined by where they come from (ICM), and a quarter (25%) see it being determined by their race or ethnicity (ICM).

Many believe the opportunities available to them are fewer and the outlook tougher, because of their background. Over a third (35%) of young people agree that lots of careers aren’t open to people like them (ICM) and that their accent and the way they talk reduces the opportunities available to them (29%, ICM).

Where young people turn to for advice, are often their immediate circle therefore are more likely to be from their own socio-economic background or class, creating an echo chamber. When looking for advice, nearly three-quarters (71%) will look to their parents, nearly a half (49%) to their friends/peers (ICM).

Those who are the first of their immediate family to go or consider going to university are significantly more pessimistic about their future prospects than those who have relatives who are university educated. A third (31%) of first-generation university students believe they won’t achieve their career (31%) or life (29%) goals (ICM). This was the case for just a fifth (22%) of students who have immediate family members who are university educated (ICM).

In a UK private business first, Co-op has undertaken research with Making the Leap, a grassroots social mobility charity, to capture the diversity of views and experiences of Lower Socio-economic Background (LSEB) individuals across work levels, business areas, and a range of personal characteristics within the Co-op.

In light of the research, Co-op is introducing a 9-point business plan on social mobility, which includes:

  • Creating an internal social mobility taskforce to work through the findings of the research and report back to colleagues in June 2024.
  • Making changes to internal job adverts so that it’s easier for colleagues to see how their skills may suit a sideways move or promotion. Co-op has been focused on making its job ads more inclusive since 2018, this includes keeping essential criteria to an absolute minimum  and avoiding desirable criteria entirely for example degree qualifications.
  • Continue with plans to improve its financial wellbeing offer to help colleagues be more financially resilient
  • Establish a new mentoring scheme for colleagues from lower socio-economic backgrounds (LSEBs), with mentors from LSEBs

In moves to break the ‘class ceiling’, Co-op has set out plans to ask Government to make socio-economic background a protected characteristic, and will look to publish a socio-economic class pay gap report in 2024. Through this work Co-op intends to elevate socio-economic background as a characteristic that should be considered alongside – and seen to be as important as – gender, ethnicity and disability.

The campaign by Co-op comes as almost three quarters (72%) would support a change in the law to make it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their socio-economic background, rising to over four fifths (85%) of 16-25 year olds (Walnut Unlimited).

Shirine Khoury-Haq, CEO of Co-op Group says: “Too often our life chances are defined by things outside of our control – be that gender, ethnicity, disability or socio-economic background. It cannot be right that those from less advantaged backgrounds are almost twice as likely to end up in working class jobs than others from more privileged backgrounds (State of the Nation). It’s a question of fairness.

“Our evidence shows socio-economic background can act as a brake on progression and performance – this has to change. We want to lead by example, taking action to identify where unfairness is holding our people back. That’s why we’ve announced a range of measures today to break through these barriers.

“And that’s why we are also calling on the Government and other parties to make it a priority in their manifesto – for socio-economic background to be made the tenth protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010 and it becoming illegal to discriminate against an individual because of their background.”

Sarah Atkinson, Chief Executive, Social Mobility Foundation added: “We welcome Co-op’s ambitious plan to improve social mobility and smash the class ceiling.

“The workplace is as important as the classroom for improving social mobility, and it is excellent to see Co-op take a lead on this issue.

“As a business, Co-op has recognised that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not, and that when companies act, it makes a huge difference, especially when in conjunction with the views of their employees.

“We’d urge those employers not currently looking at socioeconomic diversity to get started.”

John Craven, Director, Social Mobility Commission, said: “We commend Co-op for undertaking a deep dive into the experiences in the workplace of colleagues from different socio-economic backgrounds. Having both quantitative and qualitative data gives them a rich insight into the real-life experiences of their colleagues. This evidence enables them to build a robust action plan to address the challenges identified. The report provides important learnings for other employers in the sector, and beyond.”

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