As a passionate supporter of Teach First, the charity set up to tackle inequality in education, Nick Owen, Chairman of Deloitte NWE, recently went back to school. He talked to pupils at Cantell School in Southampton as part of The Big Class Challenge, and is calling on others to follow in his footsteps, delivering special classroom activities that will encourage and inspire children from low-income communities to ‘dream big’.
Standing in front of a class of 14-year-olds, I did wonder if they would connect with me. After all, I am a 50 something white bloke who lives in London and here I was in a school where half the pupils’ first language is not English and more than one in five qualify for free school meals.
The ace up my sleeve to grab their attention was my local connection.
I don’t know where they expected the Chairman of Deloitte to have been educated. It probably wasn’t the sixth form college not that far away in Chichester. Yes, I left school at 16 to do my A levels at sixth form college. I doubt they were anticipating that.
Now that I had them paying attention, I started to talk about the 1,500 young people we hire each year – some the first in their families to have gone to university and including 300 who did not go to university at all but instead joined Deloitte via other routes such as our Brightstart school leavers programme.
I think it is important that business leaders go out into schools to dispel some of the myths about what sorts of people work in organisations like ours, what qualifications they need and what we look for in recruits. Telling them face to face that you do not necessarily need a degree in economics or an A level in Maths can change attitudes. Reassuring them that it is not where you are from, but where you are going that counts can make them rethink their futures.
I hope they were inspired by this. Greater diversity in the workplace will only happen if we continue to build an inclusive environment and attract a more diverse intake… and that means that young people like these 14-year olds have to see that they are welcome at firms like Deloitte. That careers here are for people like them.
We live in a society where a significant number of young people are excluded rather than included. Where those from poorer backgrounds do less well at school, are less likely to go to university and less likely to start an apprenticeship.
As businesses we can be a force for good, changing recruitment processes to encourage greater social inclusion. For example, Deloitte is using contextualised recruiting to take into account what an individual has achieved in the environment they have achieved it. We are working to challenge unconscious bias by introducing name - and academic institution - blind CV screening. And we have expanded our talent search to a broader range of universities, colleges and schools. These will soon be the norm across more and more organisations.
It is not just about being altruistic. It is common sense and business sense too. Otherwise we will miss out on talented individuals and fail to build trust.
Going into a school might be a slightly uncomfortable experience - talking to a very different audience to the ones we usually address. However, if we are to deal with inequality head on, then joining The Big Class Challenge is something you, like me and my colleagues (10 other Deloitte Partners are participating in the coming weeks), can do if you want to tackle the Class Ceiling.
I got a huge amount out of it. I found the experience incredibly rewarding… and I hope those 14-year olds did too.
Find out more about the Big Class Challenge and how to get involved.