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Enabling social mobility

Start Codon Talent Director, Emma Plowman, shares words of wisdom on how we can all play our part to increase social mobility, even in specialist sectors.

The first 6 weeks of the year have seen us focus on all things Talent at Start Codon. We’ve been having conversations about the trends we might see, what this might mean in the start-up/life sciences space; we’ve been talking about team effectiveness and the importance of bringing the right team together; and we held our final in-person Diverse Directors Programme session.

Reflecting on the conversations I’ve had through these events, and on the back of the IFS Deaton report on Intergenerational Mobility, published late last year, it got me thinking about the challenges of increasing social mobility in highly-specialist industries.

Life Sciences and Biotech, on the surface, are not areas you’d think you can fall into. Many people with non-scientific backgrounds find the thought of moving into a career in this area an intimidating prospect.

So, the question on my mind has been – what can we do to open up opportunities to help unlock social mobility? Like many of the challenges around Justice, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI), there is no single, simple fix. But this doesn’t mean we should do nothing.

Acknowledging the challenge

It sounds simple – because it should be – but an important first step is to understand and acknowledge the challenge. If you’re looking for a place to start, then do read the IFS Deaton report.

Then think about the action you can take, as an individual or organisation. It’s easy to talk a good talk about EDI, and words do matter – but be prepared to think about the commitment you can make, to turn words into action. You may only be able to start small, but doing something is better than doing nothing.

Engaging future generations in STEM

Without a doubt, opening up opportunities for children and young people to be inspired, and to create aspiration early is a key thing we can absolutely engage with.

Opportunities are out there through organisations like STEM Learning, Form the Future and Business in the Community school partnerships to name just a few. But you could even start as simply as getting in touch with schools in your local area. Maybe you have an interesting story to share about your route into the industry? Finding good role models can make a big difference to show young people the opportunities ahead of them. Children will aspire to think bigger if they see people like them in front of them each day, showing them that reality meets aspiration.

Empathetic Engagement

To drive meaningful change, it's essential to immerse ourselves in the perspectives and realities of others. By actively listening to the experiences of underrepresented groups and marginalized communities, we can gain a deeper understanding of the barriers they face. This empathy allows us to develop more effective solutions tailored to their needs. I was at a meeting recently, discussing all things JEDI, and the focus from colleagues around the table was really sitting in the place of the people and communities you are supporting to understand and then truly acknowledge the challenge. Sometimes in our effort to ‘help’ we make assumptions based on our own bias.

Taking Action

While the task of promoting social mobility may seem daunting, even small actions can make a significant difference. Whether it's through mentorship programs, educational initiatives, or outreach efforts, every effort counts. By translating our intentions into tangible actions, we demonstrate our commitment to fostering inclusivity and opportunity for all.

Leveraging Influence

Those in positions of power and influence have a unique opportunity to drive systemic change. By leveraging their resources, networks, and platforms, they can amplify the impact of initiatives aimed at promoting social mobility. Whether through advocacy, policymaking, lobbying or resource allocation, they can help level the playing field for individuals from diverse backgrounds.

Creating organisational change

There are many things organisations can do to create change, but some simple starting points are:

  1. Establish a clear vision and culture: Recognises the impact of having a diverse organisation, make it easy for people to join you on your journey.
  2. Engage stakeholders: involve key stakeholders from all levels of the organisation. Solicit their input, address concerns, and gain buy-in to increase support in creating a truly inclusive organisation.
  3. Empower people: Empower your people to contribute to the initiatives that create your culture to ensure your espoused culture is truly who you are. Encourage innovation and initiative and provide the necessary resources and support to enable people to embrace the power of difference.

So, in summary:

  • Understand and acknowledge the challenge.
  • Step into the world of others to truly understand perspectives and realities.
  • Do something (no matter how small), rather than seeing the challenge as too big.
  • And if you can, use your power/influence to increase the impact.

About Emma

Emma Plowman’s people-focused career spans more than two decades. She has maintained an acute focus throughout on supporting the growth of people and businesses – showing how the two are connected.

Emma comes from a large, working-class family, which she credits for her strong work ethic. She became the first in her family to attend university, taking up a place at the newly established Kingston University.

Emma also inherited the desire to give back from her parents - a firefighter and a social worker – and throughout her career has focused on not just continuing to push herself, but also on creating opportunities for others to develop their capabilities, build their experience and find new opportunities.

Emma is Co-Founder of the Diverse Directors Programme, and alongside her part-time work for Start Codon, she runs her own consulting business; always ensuring work is balanced with the flexibility to focus on her daughter.

As part of a neurodiverse family, she is dedicated to breaking down barriers and biases to show the brilliance that people with different backgrounds and ways of thinking bring to organisations.