In The Champions League of Social Mobility

Ann Pickering, O2’s HR director, talks about O2’s commitment to social mobility and retaining its membership of the Social Mobility Business Compact.

Ann Pickering, HR director

Ann Pickering, HR director

We are proud to announce today that O2 has retained its champion membership of the Social Mobility Business Compact, following a rigorous assessment by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). We are one of just 11 companies within the Compact’s 200 members to receive such recognition.

“The social mobility champions,” says Nick Boles MP, Minister of State at BIS, “have shown genuine commitment to bring about positive change and made social mobility a core part of their corporate strategy.”

Like him, we hope that O2 and the ten other champions will inspire other businesses to do all they can to promote social mobility.

At its heart, social mobility is about democratising access to opportunity and making sure everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential, whatever their background. This is not just the right thing to do for people who otherwise might be excluded from building successful careers, but it is also good for O2. We need people within our business who reflect and understand the diversity of our 25 million customers.

Encouragingly, we hear a lot more than we once used to from politicians and businesses about the importance of social mobility. In 2012 O2 was one of the first signatories of the Social Mobility Business Compact, set up by the government to recognise and encourage positive work on this agenda by the corporate sector.

The government has now turned its attention to the task of integrating social mobility within its own workforce – the civil service. Remarkably, only 8% of civil service Fast Stream applicants come from working class backgrounds – and only 4% of them actually receive offers. This makes the civil service Fast Stream even less diverse than Oxbridge, where the equivalent figure is only 7.2%!

Last week Matthew Hancock MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, invited O2 to a roundtable discussion to learn more about our commitment to social mobility, the practical actions we take to hotwire it into our business and what learnings there may be for government. The roundtable kicked off a process of consultation and policy development by the government, to which we have been asked to contribute as it progresses. We are delighted to share our leadership and experience. If any organisation should reflect the people it is supposed to serve, it must surely be the public servants within the civil service. Watch out, Sir Humphrey!

At O2 we make sure that over half of the thousands of young people our Think Big programme supports each year come from lower socio-economic backgrounds. And we work hard to ensure that young people from such backgrounds feel that O2 is a professional home where they will feel welcome and can build their careers. Our assessment centres for early career applicants – apprentices, interns and graduates – have an informal dress code and we pay traveling expenses for them to attend. We openly advertise all early career opportunities and do ‘blind’ interviewing to make sure we assess the person – not the CV.

Apprentice applicants do not need any qualifications to apply. We do not target Russell Group universities for our graduate applicants and do not consider their GCSE or A’level results. They have to be on track for a 2:1, but we do not worry about their degree subject or where they are studying. Over half of our past apprentices are now in management roles and nearly 70% of our graduate roles are filled by non-Russell Group graduates.

Talent recruitment and retention is crucial to the success of our business. To be the best, we need to attract the best, wherever it may come from. That’s why we are committed to drawing on the widest and deepest possible talent pool – not just from a narrow band of people who may come from relatively affluent backgrounds. Talent is blind to gender, ethnicity, sexuality and socio-economic background. Let’s celebrate diversity and the talent it delivers.