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Promoting Social Mobility and Diversity in the Financial Services Sector: Key Insights and Imperatives

Last month, I was very fortunate to participate in a thought-provoking HR forum alongside esteemed...

Last month, I was very fortunate to participate in a thought-provoking HR forum alongside esteemed panellists and industry leaders. The insightful discussions shed light on the pressing issue of social mobility in the financial services sector. I would like to share some key takeaways from the event that resonated with me.

The forum was expertly moderated by Catrin Shi, Editor in Chief of Insurance Insider, who has been leading the Insider Progress initiative. Throughout the session, the Bridge Group report, commissioned by the City of London, was frequently referenced, providing valuable statistics and insights into the current state of social mobility in our industry.

One striking statistic from the report is that 89% of senior leaders in financial services have parents in professional occupations, while only 47% of junior employees come from similar backgrounds. These figures highlight the stark disparities and barriers faced by individuals from less privileged backgrounds.

The panellists explored the business case for addressing social mobility and diversity within organisations. It became clear that this is not merely an act of philanthropy but a strategic imperative for accessing new talent and driving success. Regulatory bodies are increasingly emphasising the importance of diversity and inclusion, and investors are demanding transparency on these matters. Moreover, as we know, fostering a diverse workforce enhances creativity, innovation, and overall competitiveness.

The session delved into the various barriers to social mobility and discussed possible solutions. Mindset emerged as a significant obstacle, with many individuals from less privileged backgrounds experiencing imposter syndrome and feelings of unacceptability. The general conclusion was the lack of networks and limited exposure to opportunities further exacerbate this issue. It became evident that organisations need to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and supported.

Leadership plays a crucial role in dismantling these barriers. There was debate about whether leaders truly understand the importance of social mobility and diversity or if their efforts are merely for optics, and the overall view was that there is a need for compassionate leaders who care and drive meaningful change from the top. The misconception that business is a meritocracy was dissected, and the group considered how businesses might create fairer opportunities for developing talent.

The forum generated several innovative ideas and initiatives for promoting social mobility in the financial services sector. Making contextual offers, where lower grade expectations are set for individuals from less privileged backgrounds, was suggested, although it remains a controversial topic due to concerns about perceived standards dropping. Concentrating on values, offering mentorship, and providing outreach programs to young individuals were also highlighted as effective approaches.

Measuring progress is crucial in assessing the impact of initiatives. Shockingly, only three insurance entities are known to actively gather socio-economic data within their organisations, although the Corporation of Lloyds is among them. It is vital for companies to track and measure diversity at each level, including pay gaps, promotions, and training opportunities. Additionally, talent assessment processes should be revised to ensure they are fair and unbiased.

Retention of diverse talent is equally vital. Enhancing visibility, mentorship programs, and fostering an inclusive environment where individuals feel comfortable being themselves are key retention strategies. We must continuously challenge middle management and hold them accountable for their records. Transparent policies and targets for a diverse future workforce should be published, drawing inspiration from organisations like Santander.

As I reflect on the insights shared during this forum, I am reminded of the imperative to drive change within our industry. It is incumbent upon each of us to take action and champion social mobility, diversity, and inclusion. Let us celebrate successes loudly, convince our leaders of the business case, and work collectively towards a more equitable and prosperous future.

It’s great to be a part of an industry actively addressing these challenges.

Nick is a Managing Director in our Insurance Practice. To contact Nick, please email him on