Let’s be optimistic about creating a fairer, more inclusive world of work

Having joined The Brokerage as Chief Executive Officer, Katerina Rudiger shares what she's excited about in her new role and the issues we face in improving social mobility. 

Katerina, CEO at The Brokerage

To get to where you want to get to you need to do three things: network, take risk and have self-belief’. The recommendations of the latest professional development guru? You’d think so, because until two weeks ago I used to work for the professional body for HR. But no, it’s an alumni of The Brokerage’s internship programme, which offers Year 13 students from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to do a paid internship with a financial, professional and related services employer in London. Hanan, the young woman in question, is now, a year later, an Underwriting Assistant at a City-based insurance company. She is back to provide the new cohort of soon-to-be interns with advice: “It’s all about who you know, so get yourself a mentor, coach and sponsor. I met people who blew my mind”.

Four days into my new role as CEO of The Brokerage and I have just met someone who blew mine. Hanan and her peers are living proof that The Brokerage’s work around inspiring a young person from a disadvantaged background and giving them access to professions not only works but creates talent that any employer would want to have.

I took this job because The Brokerage's purpose of making genuine, sustainable change to create a world where ability and aspiration – not background – are the only determinants of labour market success, is something I passionately believe in. As a European by background, the English class system has always puzzled me. Having worked in labour market policy and practice for most of my career – on both the policy and practical intervention side – I know that a different world is not just possible and desirable, but also wanted by the majority of the population.

And yet, despite a spotlight being held on social mobility over the last decade, every report published over the last few years highlights how entrenched inequality and divided the labour market is in this country: the better off are nearly 80 per cent more likely to have a professional job than those from working class backgrounds and, as a result, people from working-class backgrounds earn 24 per cent less a year than those from professional backgrounds. Britain is ‘elitist’, and social mobility is low and not improving, depriving large parts of the country of opportunity. Reports and research like this are frequently published, however these often lack practical solutions and thus don’t result in genuine change. There is a tendency to focus on what doesn’t work instead of what does, which is frustrating. Because I believe – and this view has been cemented by my first week in the job – that we have a lot of the answers and solutions already.

Don’t get me wrong, of course social mobility is a very complex issue, influenced by a multitude of factors such as education, housing, families, ethnicity, geography, welfare and employment. But significant progress can be made by tackling the employment aspect and both the demand and supply side of it. In other words, we need to combine equipping young people with the right skills and with a change in organisational practices that makes the labour market more open to people from different backgrounds.

I have spent the last eight years campaigning and equipping 150,000 HR people to drive positive change on youth employment, flexible working and other practices to address societal challenges, such as gender equality and diversity. I have first-hand experience of the fact that most employers actually want to do the right thing, they just need help with the how. This is no different when it comes to social mobility. Research shows employers want and need to recruit from a different talent pool and 92% of HR professionals believe the profession has a role to play in advancing social mobility .

The Brokerage works with a multitude of corporates, such as Lloyd's and UBS, in sectors and professions that – according to every research published – are very tricky to penetrate if you aren’t from a privileged background. We sit on tonnes of evidence of what works from our placements, workshops and mentoring relationship – little of which you see in the published reports.

Supporting hundreds of young people into professions is a changing hundreds of lives. And people like Hanan show that every single one of them is worth it. But to achieve The Brokerage’s purpose of a world where this becomes the norm and not the exception, we need to take that evidence on what works and use those insights to drive system change, in other words change mind-sets and behaviours at scale.

My first week concluded with a 40th anniversary dinner at the Worshipful Company of Insurers (WCI), who via their philanthropic education work drive change in the insurance sector. Their guest speaker, Professor Michael Mainelli spoke about the importance of purpose in the insurance sector and the need to ‘engage with the present and the future, think about the past but not let the fear of the possible paralyse us’.

So let’s not be ‘paralysed by the fear of what is possible’ but be optimistic about driving genuine, sustainable change at scale when it comes to social mobility and a fairer world of work.

By Katerina Rudiger

Interested to read about the impact our work has had? Find out in our 2018 Impact Report