Olivia Parker, Interim Head of Careers & Outreach at the Law Society of Scotland, shares two key takeaways on how employers can practically get engaged with social mobility.

‘Employers have to understand they’re a key part of the solution. Social mobility work can’t just be left to families, schools and government’.

This was one of the key points raised by a speaker that stuck with me in a recent social mobility seminar I attended. Workplaces are the ultimate ‘destination’ when it comes to the recruitment pipeline so without the involvement of our employers, there will always be a limit to progress we can make with social mobility work. What practical steps can employers take to enhance their commitment?

1. Make an impact in your community: get involved with your local schools

Employers need to do more to get face to face time with students, particularly those who don’t have any existing links with the legal profession through personal contacts. School pupils need to know who solicitors are in their communities and meet role models, to raise aspirations at an earlier stage. It needs to be more obvious that the legal profession isn’t a distant enigma, but full of real people who work everywhere in Scotland, doing work ranging from residential conveyancing to international banking or working for a company in-house.

Getting involved in social mobility programmes can boost your sense of purpose at work and we all have a personal connection as to why it’s important. For those aspiring to build their own teams, a broader understanding of what young potential talent looks like away from your usual place of work might be a valuable exercise. For others, it’s a great way to give back to the community generally and support the next generation of solicitors in Scotland. From a business perspective the sell to senior leaders is clear, as clients continue to demand evidence of proactive fair recruitment practices.

How you can get involved

There are a lot of opportunities for you to get involved with your local schools through the Law Society by joining us as a careers ambassador, debate judge or a speaker at one of our Legal Studies and Careers days. Our Careers & Outreach team already work directly with over 50% of schools in Scotland and we respond to every request we can. To do this we need a bank of keen volunteers behind us. Alternatively, you can forge your own links with schools as an individual or as an employer. Some ideas might be:

- Go along to a careers fair at a local school
- Run a talk in a school assembly/ lesson
- Hold a taster session at a school or in your office about what it's like to work as a solicitor.

We can support you by sending you a pack containing a briefing document about the route to qualification and several leaflets aimed at school pupils. Please get in touch if you would like more information at careers@lawscot.org.uk.

2. Understand your organisation and collect data. But not just for the sake of it.

A recent study of the legal profession from The Bridge Group shows us that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds are likely to be the highest performers in their firms. Worryingly the research shows that they are also less likely to be retained in the first few years of their early careers, which is primarily rooted in the way firms define talent. Assessing talent and potential starts in your recruitment process but continuing to collect data will allow you to assess how good practice is carried through. This data will give you a much clearer picture of whether you are successfully establishing an inclusive workplace culture or whether you could be falling foul of window-dressing.

There’s no way to measure improvement around your recruiting processes without collecting data, so find the simplest way to embed it into your existing work. The key is to think carefully about what you actually want to find out and essentially why diversity is important for you as an employer.

A working example to bring the value of data to life

A great example was used at the seminar from a large accounting firm, who wanted to understand more about the issue of favouritism in the workplace. Tracking the staff resourcing across client jobs helped the firm really understand the core issue of teams being built in a manager’s image, drawing together people with similar skills and personalities. The firm was then able to tackle ‘fair access to work’ and assure that client jobs were resourced on a fairer basis, supporting the career progression of many employees who were previously overlooked.

A question was also asked about why data collection isn’t just made mandatory - can’t the government just enforce employers to collect statistics on social mobility? This might well be a catalyst for change and worthy of discussion. On the flipside we all know how the over-collection of data can quickly become an obligation. Encouraging employers to think more proactively about what works for their own organisation should result in a more meaningful and positive data gathering exercise.

For employers keen to start collecting data on social mobility within your organisation, the UK Government has recommended measures for use by employers (pages 20-23 for key questions).

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