'We want to do more storytelling and advocacy to demystify civil service roles': Social Mobility Network looks ahead

2020 may have been a year like no other, but 2021 was a chip off the old block and relentless from day one. Anne-Marie Blackburn, James Lambert and Laura Blair tell us about 12 more months of dealing with Covid while pushing ahead with new challenges
Social mobility. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Civil Service World

27 Dec 2021


What was your highlight of 2021?

We had a milestone moment this year when the Social Mobility Commission and the Cabinet Office published the Navigating the Labyrinth report – the first analysis of social background and career progression in the civil service.

It shows civil servants from disadvantaged backgrounds are significantly under-represented in the organisation and even if they do “get in”, they struggle to “get on”. The report highlights barriers such as transparency around “accelerator roles”, the effect of being based outside of London, and invisible rules such as “always get a pre-interview chat with the recruiter”. 

While the report at times makes for difficult reading, it has stimulated discussion across departments and regions and mobilised our network to take action. We’ve got plans to build on this work – getting people declaring their socio-economic background more so we can measure their progression and the links between background and pay, grade, roles, etc.
How did you tackle the biggest challenges facing members of your network in 2021?

In the words of one of our network members Charlotte Bedford: “Being from a working-class background does not mean you cannot succeed. It presents challenges, but we will prosper because of our background, not despite it.”

Members of our network really value the programme of events which we run throughout the year.

There are many inspirational people from across the civil service and in the private sector who have built diverse careers and share their stories, hints and tips to support and inspire others to thrive.

Actually, this year we’ve really linked up with private sector firms with strong networks (like the City of London, KPMG, etc.) to form a Social Mobility Forum where we meet to share best practice – it’s been great for understanding mutual challenges.
What is your number one priority for 2022?

We are excited to play our part in catalysing the implementation of Navigating the Labyrinth. We want to make more of our Life Chances agenda – where we work to get specific disadvantaged groups (like care leavers) into the civil service by allowing them some exemptions from the usual recruitment rules.

We want to do more storytelling and advocacy to demystify roles in the civil service; for example, many people in operational teams are keen to understand policy roles. We want to encourage colleagues to self-declare their socio-economic background so that we can ensure the civil service recognises, celebrates and embraces socio-economic diversity in its workforce.  
Which historical, mythical or contemporary figure would you most like to join you for a New Year’s Eve celebration?

Nothing to do with social mobility but we’d really like to have a sit down with Anne Boleyn and hear her side of the story. Plus Obama to inspire us all and some comedians to make us laugh! 

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