Social Mobility and Hiring Practices at VONNE

In this blog, Health and Wellbeing Project Support Officer, Sian Dickie, discusses the idea of social mobility, recruitment practices and what led her to being hired at VONNE. 

After leaving a job in the for-profit private sector, I knew that I wanted to find a role that was both rewarding and inclusive of my needs and values. At university, I studied the idea of social mobility, and I realised through applying to so many jobs, that I was being sifted out from various opportunities due to archaic hiring practices. So, what made VONNE different and how does its hiring practices support the next generation to be more socially mobile? Firstly, some background.

  • Social Mobility as defined by the Government:

“Social mobility is the link between a person’s occupation or income and the occupation or income of their parents. Where there is a strong link, there is a lower level of social mobility. Where there is a weak link, there is a higher level of social mobility.” (The Social Mobility Commission, 2022).

  • There are multiple layers to an individual’s ability to be socially mobile:

Social Mobility doesn’t have to just be defined by income. Often it can be related to education, connections, opportunities, and soft skills. These are defined as social, economic and cultural capital (More on this here).

  • “Rules of the Game”

Unspoken rules or understanding between those from a more privileged background which are not privy to those with a lower socio-economic status. This can be evident in recruitment via the lack of transparency in job adverts. For example, not displaying a fixed salary or not hiring based on context of the applications but rather on where someone went to university.

  • “Levelling the Playing Field”

Taking actions to actively remove barriers, create an equitable environment and sense of belonging. In the workplace this could mean removing jargon from job advertisements, valuing qualifications over experience or hiring based on connections and existing networks.

Earlier this month, I saw this thread by Dave Lacey about opening up the recruitment process. While I do not have some of the lived experiences that other marginalised groups facing further barriers than I did within the recruitment process. As Dave has acknowledged, by incorporating some of these elements, you open up your organisation to a range people with different and intersecting identities (Peter Hopkins, Newcastle University, 2018) not just white, queer women and working-class folk who may face similar barriers to the ones that I did below.

Don’t list the qualifications unless absolutely necessary.

As someone who couldn’t pass their Maths GCSE at school, I’ve always been worried about it holding me back. However, the work that I currently do and work that I have done has never been hindered by my lack of qualification. It never stopped me from going to university to do an undergraduate and postgraduate degree. So, why do employers still list these arbitrary qualifications if they are not necessary to certain roles?

For some, it is about maintaining ‘prestige’ and a certain ‘standard’ of candidate which is directly rooted in discriminatory practices. Prestige and standard are often code words used within elite organisations, which halt the progression of anyone from a marginalised background. This has been demonstrated by the cut to student loans for those who do not pass their Maths and English GCSE qualifications. (More on this here). Not only will this have a direct effect on the next generation of university students, but also those applicants who may be entering the job market without a degree qualification, due to the amount of entry level jobs that are now requiring degrees.

As we have established, qualifications aren’t everything, so what can be done to help those now in this situation? At VONNE it is standard hiring practice that “Formal qualifications should not be necessarily required unless related to the job”. This means that VONNE is able to recruit those who may not have a university background or may have struggled within a school environment, which makes the organisation more accessible to those with more work experience-based applications.

Driving licenses aren’t affordable or inclusive.

Prior to my application to VONNE I was applying to a variety of roles within access, inclusion and the charity sector. Lots of roles in this area were requiring that applicants could drive or have their own vehicle, even though a significant proportion had been adapted for home or hybrid working. A question of a “willingness to learn how to drive” came up often in interviews and typically this was a hurdle that I fell at. Driving costs, including lessons, tests and fuel prices were incredibly out of reach for me (I’d been unemployed for just under 6 months) and not to mention it is bad for the environment!

As well as cost and environmental reasons, having a driving requirement also discriminates against those with medical conditions. Epilepsy, for example, can mean that you can’t drive at all or have a medically restricted driving license that can be revoked at any time in the event of seizures. Those DVLA rules equally apply to many other physical disabilities, mental health and medical conditions experienced by many people who are perfectly able to work, and to travel in alternative ways. (More on this here.)

A driving requirement, unless it is absolutely necessary, should not be the standard when recruiting candidates, especially if the necessary locations are nearby and can be accessed by alternative means, that is walking or public transport. Learning to drive is not inclusive of those from low or no-income individuals and it can close the door on potential employees who otherwise ‘fit the bill’.

In my interview for VONNE the question was phrased “would you be happy to travel” and further, it was an unmarked question. The role did not require my own vehicle or that I was “intending to pass a driving test in the near future.” This meant I was not sifted out of the recruitment process early and it did not hinder my chance at the role.

Sharing the questions and levelling the playing field.

Before the interview, the questions were shared with the candidates prior. It “levelled the playing field” for all the candidates, as everyone understood the “rules of the game”. As Dave stated in his thread, by doing this, those who don’t “have connections or know people in similar roles” may find it much easier to prepare for an interview as they are given a fairer chance if they’re up against people who may know individuals who are in similar roles who can help them prepare or give them advice.

As VONNE did this for me prior to my interview, I was able to use my skills and experiences and attribute them to each question. This meant I was able to remember specific interview techniques that I had researched, remember to give the interviewers examples, and overall settled my nerves into the interview as it wasn’t a memory test.

Regarding the actual interview itself, the people who interviewed me made me feel welcome. A warm and friendly presence meant that the interview felt like a safe space but further, they both made it very clear that it was as much for me to get to know them as it was for them to get to know me. Lots of the previous interviews that I had didn’t do this and were often surprised when I had questions to ask at the end. If someone is a part of a marginalised community it is just as important for them to get to know the people and the organisation itself within the interview, as a matter of safety but also for their wellbeing. No one wants to be a part of a place where they don’t feel accepted. In explaining that the environment was a conversation between us, it made the online space feel equitable and created a sense of belonging.

Meritocracy.

Society often revolves around the idea that life is a level playing field to begin with and if you work hard, you can get where you need to be. Termed as meritocracy, this idea is very often not the case due to systemic barriers which prevent marginalised individuals from accessing positions. These barriers are typically multi-layered and become more prevalent when other intersections of identity, such as race, religion and disability come into play too. The charity sector isn’t perfect by any means (More on this here) and there is a long way to go, but by beginning the work that needs to be done on recruitment practices, organisations could become much more open to a more diverse range of employees.

By having a willingness to develop their recruitment policy to avoid harmful practices, VONNE has enabled me to join a team where my potential could be explored and my experiences, valued. By lowering some of the barriers which could’ve hindered my chances of getting a position, I was able to perform to the best of my ability during the hiring and interview process.