Born to fail: socioeconomic diversity in tech

To mark London Tech Week, we asked Professor Sonia Blandford for her views - established over a lifetime leading the debate on social mobility - what it will take for us to make meaningful progress on socioeconomic diversity in tech. Sonia has 40+ years of experience in education including as a university Dean of Education, Pro-Vice Chancellor, school governor. Her credentials include Emeritus Professor of Social Mobility at Plymouth Marjon, Visiting Professor of Education UCL, Honorary Professor Warwick University, and founder of the award-winning charity, Achievement for All. Here’s what she had to say:

The United Kingdom is at a crisis point in terms of education, health and social care, which impacts on the future of our workforce – no one should be born to fail.  As employees, parents, carers, business, civic and community leaders, all companies have a responsibility to make changes to their diversity and inclusion strategies to improve social mobility for all regardless of their background, challenge or need.

According to the Tech Talent Charter’s Diversity in Tech Report 2024, 9% of UK tech employees are reported to be from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. This compares to a significant 39% of the UK population forming lower socioeconomic groups. 

In practice the Tech industry is failing to contribute to reducing the £39 billion cost to the UK economy lost by not training and retaining potential employees from lower socioeconomic groups.

Why are employer approaches to social mobility failing?

General approaches to socioeconomic diversity in employment have fallen short due to:

  • Employers not placing social mobility at the heart of Diversity and Inclusion strategy
  • The are multiple barriers to upward mobility 
  • Leaders do not buy into social mobility
  • Social mobility practices have not improved outcomes
  • Data has not been used to inform practice.

What do we need to do to make an impact on social mobility in tech?

Include social mobility in all strategies, reports and meetings. All companies should strive to create:

  1. a social mobility vision to inspire and guide employees.
  2. communication that encourages social mobility within and beyond the company.
  3. collaborative interventions where employees are partners in a shared goal. 
  4. commitment to social mobility throughout all areas of the business.

Here are the practical ways you can take meaningful action on social mobility:

  • Develop opportunities through real engagement with business, employers and industry:
    • Ensure that education about the range of tech career pathways is available to all. This should start in education, with employers engaging with schools from a primary level, and extend through to experienced professionals seeking a career change. We should also use our position to influence the public awareness on tech career choices to increase information amongst parents, carers, educators and job services.
    • Commit to utilising and optimising the apprenticeship levy so that it delivers the type of skilled workers that the tech industry needs, and increase the number of people recruited to complete them at all levels.
  • Commit to best practices to improve socioeconomic inclusion in the workplace
    • Measure socioeconomic diversity in your workforce
    • Create an inclusive workplace culture that aligns the organisation around shared vision and commitment to socioeconomic diversity and inclusion.
    • Pay attention to inclusive practices throughout the employee journey, such as during recruitment and progression processes. 
    • Advocate and influence leaders to consider social mobility in business decision making.
  • Recognise and seek out talent in social mobility cold spots
    • Lobby and advise decision makers to support talent development in lower-tier curriculum areas of the UK.
    • Contribute to the development of resilience and aspiration, as well as skill and capacity in all areas of the UK. 
  • Engage parents and carers in social mobility efforts
    • In your communication strategy, include network and relationship-building to reach those who influence employment and education choices.
    • Ensure that parent and carer engagement is considered in any career-related initiatives you undertake with young people in education, at all ages.
  • Commit to supporting the physical and mental health of young people.
    • Go beyond the standard of just avoiding harm, and invest in building a culture of good health and wellbeing. Ensure that wellness and health is a key priority in talent development, and especially in any engagements with young people.