Is Big Business Hindering Social Mobility? Top Bankers Urge Change for Economic Prosperity

Urgent action is required to break the cycle of limited opportunities and foster a more inclusive business environment.

3 mins read

Key Takeaways:

  • Leading City bankers Sir Kenneth Olisa OBE and Steven Cooper CBE highlight the need for big businesses to diversify their recruitment and promote social mobility.
  • UK’s social mobility ranks poorly among developed nations, hindering equitable outcomes and economic prosperity.
  • Socio-economic diversity and inclusion have declined due to COVID-19, inflation, and energy costs, making it harder for individuals to climb the social ladder.


In a bid to address the glaring disparities in social mobility within the United Kingdom, prominent City bankers Sir Kenneth Olisa and Steven Cooper are urging big businesses to revolutionize their recruitment strategies. The duo asserts that a “blinkered” approach to hiring poses a significant obstacle to economic prosperity and fair distribution of opportunities across the nation. With the UK ranking 12th out of 14 developed countries in terms of social mobility, the call for change is not only a matter of social justice but also crucial for business success.

The State of Social Mobility in the UK

The UK’s performance in social mobility has been disheartening, leaving much room for improvement. A recent study ranked the country among the worst in the developed world. This disappointing statistic highlights the urgent need for businesses to play an active role in driving change and promoting social mobility. The UK Social Mobility Awards, an upcoming event created to underscore the importance of social mobility for business success, serves as a reminder of the pressing issues that need attention.

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Leaders Hiring in Their Own Image: A Football Team of Goalkeepers

Sir Kenneth Olisa, Chair of the UK Social Mobility Awards, points out the tendency of leaders to hire individuals who mirror their own backgrounds and experiences. This limited approach inadvertently creates a workforce lacking diversity, hindering innovation and competitive advantage. He emphasizes that a diverse set of players, with various backgrounds and skillsets, is crucial to achieving a competitive edge. Sir Kenneth believes that businesses lacking empathy for their staff, customers, supply chains, recruitment pools, and communities are at a significant disadvantage compared to those that prioritize inclusivity and diversity.

Socio-Economic Diversity Under Threat

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with rising inflation and energy costs, has further deepened the challenges faced by individuals seeking social mobility. Socio-economic diversity, equity, and inclusion have suffered as a result. Key sectors, such as medicine, law, and journalism, continue to exhibit underrepresentation of individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds (LSEBs). A substantial class pay gap further exacerbates the situation, with LSEBs earning an average of £6,718 less per year than their more affluent counterparts.

Concerns and Bias Experienced by LSEB Individuals

Young individuals from LSEBs express legitimate concerns about how their backgrounds might hinder their career prospects. A study revealed that 31% of young LSEBs fear the negative impact of their socio-economic backgrounds on their professional growth. Additionally, 29% of LSEB senior managers report experiencing accent bias, indicating the presence of systemic barriers that need to be addressed.

Building Better Businesses through Diversity

Steven Cooper, CEO of Aldermore Group, reflects on his own journey, leaving school at 16 to join Barclays and eventually building a successful career. His experience underscores the significance of offering young people apprenticeships and opportunities that don’t necessarily require a university degree or privileged connections. Cooper advocates for businesses to track not only gender and ethnicity but also the socio-economic backgrounds of their employees. This tracking allows companies to identify and eliminate barriers that hinder the progress of underrepresented communities. Cooper firmly believes that a more diverse workforce not only promotes inclusivity but also unlocks a broader pool of talented individuals, ultimately leading to better business outcomes.

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UK Social Mobility Awards: Illuminating Inclusive Businesses

The UK Social Mobility Awards, set to announce its winners on October 12, plays a vital role in recognizing and celebrating employers and educators working to improve social mobility. The awards shine a spotlight on businesses that prioritize the diverse backgrounds of their employees. Last year’s winners included renowned firms such as KPMG, PwC, Grant Thornton, Oddbox, Lidl, and Sky, showcasing their commitment to fostering an inclusive work environment.


Sir Kenneth Olisa and Steven Cooper’s impassioned plea for big businesses to embrace diversity and promote social mobility comes at a crucial time for the UK. The need for change is underscored by the country’s poor performance in social mobility rankings. Businesses must take an active role in breaking the cycle of limited opportunities and fostering a more inclusive environment that values individuals from all socio-economic backgrounds. By doing so, they not only contribute to social justice but also gain a competitive advantage by tapping into a broader pool of talented individuals. The upcoming UK Social Mobility Awards serve as a reminder of the importance of prioritizing diversity and inclusion in the business world. It is time for big businesses to embrace change and drive social mobility for the betterment of all.

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