You’ve probably heard quite a lot about social mobility in the last few years. Is social mobility really that much of an issue for MoJ and all of us who work here? For me, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. It is vital that we do what we can to make MoJ an inclusive department that attracts, recruits and supports people from all backgrounds to progress.
When I started talking to people, it became apparent that a lot of colleagues found it hard to relate to why we would have a social mobility agenda at all. As if we sorted all that years ago with free state education, opening up university access and Brixton boy John Major making it to 10 Downing Street (showing my age).
A few experiences in life resonated with me. From an early age, I remember my dad saying that when he came to London from Ireland he would see a card in the window of places he wanted to lodge. They read (scarily) ‘No black people, Irish or Roman Catholic’.
I have always disliked people being excluded from opportunities because of the school they went to, their parents’ income or because of other people's perceptions of them. I guess because I come from a family that immigrated to this country with nothing except the opportunity to achieve, being rewarded based on merit has always been important to me.
It is for this reason that I have spent the last few decades working on all types of learning and development, career development, talent programmes, apprenticeships, employability initiatives and anything else in the now popular catchphrase of ‘capability’.
My interpretation of social mobility is to remove obstacles for people to access workplace opportunities that I know they can flourish in (sometimes they don’t believe they can at the start). And, once they are in these positions, to then have the opportunity to progress just the same as anyone else.
The Movement to Work programme which MoJ Digital and Technology has supported for some years does exactly this. Its aim is to connect people not in education, employment or training but with organisations who are offering intern style opportunities for a period of around eight weeks.
Movement to Work was created to address the growing problem of youth unemployment. It now consists of 250 employers, of which the Civil Service is a founding member. In supporting this scheme, MoJ teams will be able to improve the life chances of young people, while also encouraging diversity and social mobility, which will move the Civil Service towards its aspiration of being the most inclusive employer in the UK by 2020.
The programme provides a low risk way of letting all people experience work and gain confidence. I have seen amazing changes in the space of eight weeks and credit our great teams with being very generous and embracing everyone even though they are busy.
The other initiative I am proud of was something we started here, the ‘MOJO’ social mobility programme. Essentially we offered five students who self identified as coming from socially disadvantaged backgrounds a nine week placement with one of our teams to experience delivering their own project, speak to our professions and embrace the life we have here in MoJ Digital and Technology. It was great to hear them describe afterwards how their perceptions of the civil service and the digital sector had been changed (for the better) and how they now saw it as a career they themselves thought they could pursue. Again for me, it was great to see the change happening quickly and knowing it could change a life permanently.
Let’s say no to self limiting thoughts, try stuff that moves us out of our comfort zone and be open to the attributes of others whatever they look like, wherever they went to school or how they speak.