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Increasing social mobility by scrapping the 2:1 - A new age in graduate recruitment

Friday 26th May

Increasing social mobility by scrapping the 2:1 - A new age in graduate recruitment

Read time: approx. 3.5minutes

Reappraising the 2:1

First, it was the COVID-19 pandemic, cutting grads off from the working world, and throwing businesses into disarray. And now, with the cost of living crisis, only the wealthiest grads can comfortably travel to and from an interview. Two phenomena with a common conclusion: making life tough for grads. Both these challenges are either recent or ongoing. But there’s one barrier facing graduates that feels old as time: 

The 2:1 minimum requirement. 

A meta-analysis by psychologists John Hunter and Frank Schmidt found that screening by a candidate’s college or university grade only increased the odds of a successful hire by about 4%. Despite this small increase, this practice remains so common – and disastrous for diversity.

But here’s the good news. Today, thousands of employers are reappraising the value of the 2:1 in today’s hiring landscape. The question is: should you join them?

Potential over ‘polish’

The difficult truth is that many employers inadvertently mistake polish for potential when hiring graduates; associating connections, educational background, or even an accent with true ability. The 2:1 requirement stokes these biases, and disadvantages thousands of talented individuals.

But the 2:1’s stranglehold is loosening. In fact, as employers seek to beat talent shortages with broader, deeper talent pools, more than 30% of employers have dropped minimum grades for their grad schemes.

This includes the likes of PwC and Santander. In the US, leading employers like Google, CostCo and Hilton have followed suit. All are reaping the benefits.

But what exactly are the benefits? When you put potential over polish, who wins?

The short answer is, everyone.

Case study: Grant Thornton UK LLP

Professional services firm Grant Thornton scrapped hard-line academic requirements for applicants in 2013. A little while on, its People & Culture Director, Richard Waite, said that “the removal of academic barriers to entry has allowed us to have a much wider reach and a more diverse intake each year.”

By scrapping the 2:1, Grant Thornton can now mine talent where others couldn’t. Or wouldn’t. This doesn’t just provide more opportunity for disadvantaged candidates – it’s a competitive advantage for the business, too.

Case study: Browne Jacobson LLP

Browne Jacobson placed first in the Social Mobility Foundation’s, Employer Index in 2022 and 2021. They have enjoyed all the benefits of diversity (both cultural and financial), and seen a leap in candidate calibre.

In fact, 70% of Browne Jacobson’s hires received an 'exceptional' rating in 2022. Just a year earlier, many would’ve been ineligible to apply.

This illustrates the value of putting potential first – for both employers and graduates.

Taking the next step

Some businesses aren’t content with simply scrapping academic minimums. Others have taken more nuanced measures to support social mobility and access the competitive advantages it offers.

Take Bain and Company, for example. They’ve implemented a process where they’ll flag candidates for further review based on a combination of their performance and social background. They’ll then provide those from less privileged backgrounds with a buddy, who’ll coach them through the interview process.

Or how about DWF Law LLP? Their recruitment team uses body language assessments to make a judgement on whether candidates' lack of confidence may be related to their socioeconomic background.

If they judge a candidate to have high potential, but they’re clearly nervous in an unfamiliar environment, they’ll encourage hiring managers to see beyond that nervousness. This helps ensure candidates aren’t disadvantaged by their background.

A step-by-step guide to scrapping the 2:1

There are clear benefits to dropping minimum academic requirements in your hiring process. But the question isn’t just why. It’s also how.

The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) offers lots of helpful tips on just this point. Here is a quick three-step guide based on their advice:

1. Collect socioeconomic data

Richard Waite, People & Culture Director at Grant Thornton, says their decision to drop minimum requirements stemmed from data. Namely, the data showed zero correlation between academic attainment and future performance.

If you’re using data at the heart of your business case, it should be to measure the socio-economic background of your potential recruits. The Social Mobility Foundation suggests analysing your current employees to understand the size of the social mobility challenge in your organisation. Only then can you build a plan that truly suits your goals using data.

The Social Mobility Commission (SMC) has created a cross-industry toolkit for employers collecting socio-economic background data. This guidance recommends that if employers are only collecting one data point, then it should be for example, ‘What was the occupation of your main household earner when you were aged about 14?’. However, they did find that the best practice is to collect 3-4 data points, including school type, free school meals eligibility and parental education.

2. Develop a social mobility strategy

Now you know the scale of the challenge, build your plan to fix it. A good place to start is the Social Mobility Commission’s five building blocks. These are:

  • Vision – a goal for the business to rally around
  • Talent – widening your talent pool
  • Culture – creating a diverse & inclusive culture
  • Progression – making sure talented people can succeed
  • Data – how to measure & analyse progress

3. Execute, monitor & iterate

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so don’t expect to nail your social mobility goals immediately. Instead, target continuous improvement, focusing on the data. What are your key metrics for social mobility? How will you measure them?

Again, the SMC can help here. They offer a series of data toolkits to help you evaluate your progress, and course correct where necessary. If the end result is a socially mobile and diverse organisation, then data is the start.

The 2023 Employer Index is now open, employers can apply here.

About the Social Mobility Employer Foundation & Social Mobility Employer Index:
The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) is a national charity that aims to make practical improvements in social mobility for young people from low-income backgrounds through its Aspiring Professionals Programme, its Social Mobility Employer Index, and its advocacy and campaigning arm, the Department for Opportunities (DO).     

The Social Mobility Employer Index is the leading authority on employer-led social mobility. It assesses employers across seven critical areas of workplace social mobility, including talent and attraction. It ranks UK employers on the actions they take to ensure they can attract and progress talent from all social backgrounds. All employers who enter receive bespoke feedback to support them on how they can improve. 

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