Is toxic culture syndrome stagnating social mobility?

Walking through a park, you notice two ponds. In the first the water is stagnant and has turned toxic - there's no movement, no life, no inspiration. Turning to the second, you can see the water is clear, fish are happily swimming and plants look healthy and vibrant. You spot the reason why - the second pond has been given a helping hand - a water pump, keeping it flowing with fresh oxygenated water.

This analogy can be applied to our society; where we strive for social mobility - fairness, equality and rights regardless of family background. Yet immobility is still too often the reality; where the fortunate thrive as the disadvantaged stagnate.

Those from the poorest backgrounds often resign themselves to a life of low aspiration, Government benefits and, most significantly, unemployment. Their children enter the world, become second and third generation unemployed; victims of toxic culture syndrome - where learnt behaviour teaches there is little opportunity.

Combatting social immobility

At the tail end of 2013, the World Economic Forum warned of the damage this can have on society. SD Shibulal, Chief Executive of Infosys and a contributor to the report, said at the time: "Unless we address chronic joblessness, we will see an escalation in social unrest... People, particularly the youth, need to be productively employed, or we will witness rising crime rates, stagnating economies and the deterioration of our social fabric."

For Grant Shapps, the UK Conservative party chairman, this lack of social mobility can no longer be tolerated, claiming: "Businesses, not benefits, are the true ladder of social mobility." He believes that owning, running or working for a business will provide the required opportunity for people to "escape the circumstance of their birth."

To support this, Governments around the world are prioritising policies which will increase educational spending, cut business rates, boost apprenticeships, help positive immigration and create favourable loans for small businesses and start-ups to encourage entrepreneurship.

Take it into our own hands...

This is not just about adjusting labour regulations and gaining more Government support though. More needs to be done within society that makes a difference in schools/Universities and business attitudes must change to those of diversity and creating aspirational change.

In the UK, higher education figures (for people aged between 16 - 18) show that access to 'top' Universities, such as Oxford and Cambridge, are still dominated by students from independently educated, fee-paying schools, with just 24% of students from Government funded institutes gaining a place. This has a direct impact on access to top professional careers. Despite representing only 7% of the UK population The Sutton Trust, set up to help underprivileged young people and increase social mobility, found that independently-educated individuals account for 60% of financial services professionals, 63% of law professionals and 51% of medics.

Positively, Universities are recognising that they need to provide greater opportunity to those from non-privileged backgrounds and therefore offer scholarships to their institutions. However, if we genuinely want to address toxic culture syndrome and improve our society, employers need to unite, with organisations both large and small taking practical steps towards positive change.

That means those businesses who still base their decisions on class, tradition, drawing from certain educational institutes and personal networks to think again and lose their reluctance to take a chance on something 'different'.

A challenge for employers

If we all did our bit, these small changes would radically alter the face of society for the better and help workforces become more competitive, more diverse and more credible.

It would put pay to the disconnect between young people who are eager to work and businesses who say they can't find young people with the skills they need - last year McKinsey found that 27% of businesses have left a vacancy open in the past year for this reason alone.

So, let's mentor young people and help them into meaningful work where they can progress. Let's break down the silos and banish the closed mindedness. Let's become those 'water pumps', giving people a chance to help themselves up and out. Let's provide opportunity; showing young people what could be and how they can achieve their wants, needs and desires. Let's take a common sense approach to improving employability and guiding the way.

Employers don't just give people a job, they give them the chance to change their life. This is a huge responsibility, just like balancing the books, turning over a profit and succeeding. It's time we recognised this and all did our bit to ensure we don't let the water become toxic.

*This blog originally featured online at

#culture #communications #socialmobility #mentoring #education

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