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Unlocking workplace diversity: The overlooked importance of social mobility

Learning and Development | 6 Min Read

Unlocking workplace diversity: The overlooked importance of social mobility


In the changing workplace, social mobility remains an overlooked dimension of diversity and inclusion. Diversity centers on factors like race, gender, and sexual orientation, while social mobility remains in the shadows despite its profound impact on a company’s workforce and society. Social mobility refers to people who can advance and succeed in a company regardless of background. Recognizing and addressing social mobility is vital for businesses to create an inclusive environment and tap into the full potential of their workforce.


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What is social mobility?

Social mobility in the workplace refers to the ability of individuals to move up or down the socio-economic and professional ladder within an organization or society. They can be individuals, families or different groups of people. It is a change in social status compared to one’s current social location. Social mobility is linked to equality of opportunity. It refers to having the same chances to do well regardless of their family’s socio-economic background, gender, age, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, birthplace, or other circumstances beyond their control. Social mobility can be evaluated in terms of income or social class. It includes various aspects like access to healthcare and education.

It reflects how individuals can improve their social and economic status through their careers and employment opportunities. Promoting social mobility in the workplace includes policies and initiatives to reduce discrimination, provide equal access to education and training, promote diversity and inclusion, and address economic disparities.


What are the consequences of restricted social mobility?

Restricted social mobility in a workplace can impact employees and the organization. Here are three critical consequences:

Decreased employee morale and engagement

When employees perceive limited opportunities for advancement or growth within the organization, their morale and motivation can suffer. It can result in reduced job satisfaction, lower levels of engagement, and decreased overall productivity. Individuals stagnant in their current roles may become disheartened and less committed to their work.

Talent drain

A lack of social mobility can lead to the loss of talented employees. They may seek better opportunities elsewhere. When high-performing individuals feel their career progression is stagnant, they may be more inclined to leave the organization to pursue positions that offer more precise paths to advancement.

Reduced diversity and inclusion

Limited social mobility can reinforce existing hierarchies and inequities within the workplace. When certain groups of employees face barriers to advancement, it can result in a less diverse and inclusive workforce. It can hinder creativity, innovation, and problem-solving, as diverse perspectives are often essential for driving growth.


What are things organizations can do to enhance social mobility?

Organizations can improve social mobility in numerous ways, including outreach programs, skill-based hiring and mentoring schemes. They can also promote measuring socio-economic diversity, salary transparency, building a talent pipeline, etc. Some of the ways to enhance workplace social mobility include:


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Measure socio-economic diversity

Measuring socio-economic diversity helps organizations identify gaps in access or progression. It involves supporting target initiatives to improve diversity and track progress. Recording socio-economic background data helps track progress. The socio-economic background of the workforce can be measured with various questions. They can range from parental occupation and education to the type of school attended and free school meal eligibility.

Build a talent pipeline

Building a talent pipeline is one of the most effective ways to enhance social mobility. Employers play an essential role in an employee’s professional career. They influence their work experience, placements and apprenticeships. Creating opportunities to enter the workplace through multiple entry points ensures that work opportunities are open to people from all backgrounds. These routes include advertising internships and work experience placements.

Improve recruitment practices

When recruiting staff, organizations need to take measures to attract and recruit top talent, regardless of background. Adding contextual recruitment practices helps enhance social mobility. Contextual hiring considers the context in which a candidate’s previous success or experience has been achieved during the recruitment process.

Keep and nurture talent

Recruiters should ensure all employees have an equal opportunity to succeed within the organization. Monitoring class pay gaps, providing impartial promotion and work allocation processes, and creating an inclusive, welcoming culture that celebrates diversity and different viewpoints enhance social mobility.

Look outside of the workplace

Working with young people in schools and universities expands their horizons and creates opportunities. When an organization engages with young individuals, it helps them stay involved with future employers and receive direct support where needed. Furthermore, increasing the number of universities for recruiting students boosts social mobility.

Advantages of social mobility in the workplace

Promoting social mobility in the workplace benefits individuals, organizations, and society. Some of the advantages are:


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  • Economic growth and new ideas: The workforce becomes more creative and innovative when everyone has a chance to succeed. People with different backgrounds and skills develop new ideas, which helps the economy grow. It encourages people to start businesses, research, and innovate.
  • Enhanced productivity and motivation: When we support social mobility, it makes employees feel better about their work. It increases productivity and overall performance, benefiting employees and their organizations.
  • Reduced inequality and increased harmony: Social mobility minimizes income and wealth inequality. It contributes to greater social cohesion, reducing the potential for social unrest and disparities in access to education, healthcare, and other essential services.


Examples of social mobility at the workplace

Social mobility in the workplace refers to the ability of individuals to move up or down the social and economic hierarchy within their careers. Some of the social mobility examples in the workplace are:


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Promotions and advancements:

Employees who start in entry-level positions can climb the corporate ladder through hard work and performance. They can move into higher-paying roles with more responsibility.


Education and training:

Employers often offer opportunities for skill development and education, such as tuition reimbursement or on-the-job training, enabling employees to acquire new skills and qualify for better positions.


Mentorship programs:

Companies can establish mentorship programs where experienced employees guide and support junior staff, helping them gain knowledge and experience leading to career advancement.


Internal job postings:

Some organizations post job openings internally before looking externally, allowing current employees to apply for better positions within the company.


Diversity and inclusion initiatives:

Organizations that actively promote diversity and inclusion create a level playing field, reducing barriers for individuals from underrepresented backgrounds and facilitating social mobility.


Performance-based pay increases:

Compensation structures that reward employees based on performance can incentivize hard work and skill development, leading to higher salaries and social mobility.


Flexible work arrangements:

Companies offering flexible work options, such as remote work or flexible hours, enable employees to balance work with personal responsibilities, potentially improving their overall quality of life.


Employee resource groups (ERGs):

ERGs are affinity groups within organizations that provide support and networking opportunities for employees with shared characteristics or interests. These groups can help individuals build valuable connections and access career development resources.



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When workplaces try to help people from different backgrounds move up in their careers, it benefits both individuals and organizations. This includes hiring people from diverse backgrounds and using a fair system to evaluate their skills. It also means setting up mentorship programs and training opportunities and ensuring the hiring and promotion process is just.

Using scientifically tested assessments, Mercer | Mettl’s psychometric tests can help choose the right people for jobs, no matter where they come from. Recognizing social mobility is essential in the workplace because it helps create a healthy and dynamic environment for everyone. When organizations support social mobility, they create workplaces where people can succeed based on their skills and what they want to achieve, not where they come from.



What is social mobility in the workplace?

What are the social dimensions of diversity?

What are the dimensions of diversity in the workplace?

Originally published October 30 2023, Updated November 8 2023

Written by

Archita Bharadwaj has worked as a Content writer at Mercer | Mettl since April 2023. With her research background, she writes varied forms of content, including blogs, ebooks, and case studies, among other forms.

About This Topic

The accelerated pace at which businesses are rushing toward digitization has primarily established that digital skills are an enabler. It has also established the ever-changing nature of digital skills, and created a need for continuous digital upskilling and reskilling to protect the workforce from becoming obsolete.

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