Imagine finding your next top performer in an unexpected place, says Joe Seddon.

They are not from the typical leafy suburb in the South East, nor did they attend a well-known public school, but they are a consistent overperformer who has defied seemingly insurmountable odds to make it to where they are today.

And better still, they bring the fresh perspective of coming from an area of the country that most employees within your organisation wouldn’t be able to find on a map.

This is not just a dream; it’s the untapped goldmine of socially mobile talent. In a nation where more than two-thirds of senior leaders in the UK’s major law firms, accountancy firms, and financial services companies come from families of professionals, compared to just 37 percent of the workforce, we have to ask ourselves: are we looking for talent in the right places?

Social mobility is key

Social mobility isn’t just a lofty ideal; it’s a powerful driver for the entire UK economy. When businesses excel at pairing the right talent with the right roles, productivity skyrockets. KPMG’s workplace study on social mobility, ‘Mind the Gap’, showed that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds in senior roles progress quicker at the firm compared to those from wealthier backgrounds. A study in the wealth management sector similarly found that fund managers from poorer backgrounds delivered higher returns than those from rich families. Socially mobile talent thrives under the right conditions, and can plug the talent gap many industries are currently facing. In a macroeconomic context, if the UK could just increase social mobility to the Western European average, GDP would be boosted by £39 billion annually.

And yet, currently, only 5 percent of companies are actively recruiting early years talent from lower-income households. UK employers need a mindset shift. Social mobility isn’t just a diversity issue, it’s a talent issue. Fixing it is about unearthing hidden gems that can propel businesses into new realms of innovation and growth, not just ticking a HR checkbox.

I founded Zero Gravity because I saw an opportunity to not only unlock the potential of those from low-opportunity backgrounds but to provide a business solution to employers and universities looking to recruit the very best talent. So here’s why I think hiring socially mobile talent should be the number one priority for every business.

Overperformance is in their nature

When it comes to entry-level recruitment, the focus should be on potential rather than experience. And socially mobile individuals have potential in abundance. As the American Educational Research Association found, contextualised school grades are often a much better predictor of university success than raw grades. A student achieving a set of Bs at an underperforming state school while not having time for homework or knowing if dinner will be on the table, is likely to have more raw talent than a straight A student who is middle of the class in an elite public school and has had access to private tutors at every turn. Currently, the latter type of students have the upper hand in navigating traditional recruitment systems which focus on academic performance and work experience without the full context in which those grades and internships were secured. A system which focused on relative performance instead would be far better at identifying raw talent rather than inherited advantage.

Resilience is innate to social mobility

Resilience is more than just a buzzword; it’s a critical trait in the modern workplace, especially for early-stage employees. Individuals who excel in resilience have a more positive attitude in their work and have a better ability to handle the inevitable stress which comes with having a high-performance job. But while 97 percent of business executives believe resilience is important, only 47 percent believe their organisation is resilient. This is the negative side effect of over-hiring talent from backgrounds where adversity is a rarity rather than part of the day-to-day. Those from socially mobile backgrounds on the other hand have built up huge amounts of resilience by navigating and overcoming life’s numerous challenges. Whilst growing up on free school meals, living in tough areas, and attending underperforming state schools can limit opportunity, it often creates near limitless resilience. A resilience study at UWE Bristol found that working class students’ struggles to get to university and survive once there built a high level of resilience useful in helping them succeed, compared to middle class students who were more likely to feel entitled to succeed. In this sense, social mobility journeys become de facto training courses for resilience that contribute to enhanced performance in the workplace.

Diversity of thought powers innovation

Diversity is not just about being representative of the country but about embracing a range of experiences and perspectives on the world. Socially mobile employees bring unique experiences and viewpoints, fostering an environment ripe for innovation and safeguarding against groupthink. That’s because social mobility is multidimensional; encompassing second generation Brits raised in inner city tower blocks, alongside those whose families have lived for generations in the rural isolation of the Welsh valleys. Having a diverse array of perspectives not only enriches the idea pool but also equips organisations with a comprehensive range of solutions, as individuals apply their unique experiences to tackle each challenge. Indeed, a BCG study found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19 percent higher revenues in the long run. On the other hand, recruiting individuals from a narrow range of backgrounds is a recipe for silos and groupthink, making it harder to not only create a culture of innovation but manage tail risks.

Social mobility boosts broader diversity

Corporate diversity initiatives often focus on gender and ethnicity, but socio-economic background and class are crucial, yet frequently overlooked, dimensions of diversity. While the proportion of women in FTSE 100 boardrooms has increased from 12.5 percent to 40 percent over the past ten years, only 12 of the UK’s top 100 companies have made substantial efforts to improve social class diversity in their workforce. Yet, social mobility is often the key to solving diversity challenges. Social mobility drives ethnic and gender diversity, but the reverse often isn’t true. The brutal reality is that many companies have looked to tick a perceived diversity checkbox around gender and ethnicity with candidates who still come from wealthy backgrounds. This has increased optical diversity but has not led to a substantial increase in the fundamental diversity that is achieved by employing people from different backgrounds. By prioritising social mobility, companies can unlock a more comprehensive approach to diversity, levelling the playing field not just in terms of class, but across all dimensions of diversity.

Social mobility networks drive retention

Hiring socially mobile talent transforms company culture, making it more inclusive and supportive of those from all backgrounds. When socially mobile employees are supported, they can perform at their best and, in turn, become advocates and mentors for others in similar situations. This creates a cycle of positive reinforcement within your organisation, helping to alleviate feelings of imposter syndrome among employees. This phenomenon can be seen in the success of Employee Resource Groups in boosting retention, with ERGs contributing up to a 14 percent increase in employee retention rates. At Zero Gravity, we understand this dynamic. Our platform connects over 20,000 students from low-opportunity backgrounds with employers, fostering a community where mentorship and peer support fuel a culture of growth and belonging. Taking this proactive approach in building internal networks ensures that socially mobile talent does not just survive but thrives at work.

Staying ahead of the marker

Future-proofing your business is more than just trend-chasing; it’s about getting ahead of new ESG standards and upcoming regulatory requirements. The FCA for example has recently set out proposals to boost diversity and inclusion within the financial sector, including mandating firms to report data against certain characteristics and set clear targets to address under-representation. By proactively embracing a workforce that reflects the diversity of the UK, your business stays ahead of emerging expectations in social responsibility. This approach not only positions your company favourably in terms of compliance, but also strengthens your brand’s reputation regarding social impact. By leading the way on social mobility, businesses can set themselves up for long-term success rather than being reactive to regulations and standards they didn’t stay ahead of.

In short, embracing socially mobile talent is more than just ticking a diversity checkbox – it’s a commercial imperative with tangible business benefits. By tapping into a rich pool of potential that has been historically overlooked, businesses can unlock new avenues of innovation, grow business resilience, and increase retention. It is about time businesses viewed social mobility as an integral part of their talent strategies, not just an optional add-on. Because those who embrace social mobility will create a competitive advantage that serves their organisation for years to come.


Joe Seddon is the founder and CEO of Zero Gravity.