By Dave Caskie

INCREASING social mobility must be at the heart of our economic recovery. Unlocking all potential is vital for Scotland to become the desired "enterprising nation" and for businesses to reap the benefits of a diverse and therefore innovative workforce. Yet, the reality is quite sobering. Moving into work and progression once there can still be defined by where we’ve come from.

In a recent study of more than 4,000 employees and 1,400 senior executives across the UK, we found that employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are promoted less frequently than their colleagues and are a third less likely to be on a career "fast track".

Across the sample of Scottish employees, when asked if anyone was "actively helping" them advance only one in five from lower socioeconomic backgrounds answered yes, compared to one in three of their colleagues. Despite this, they tended to be more loyal.

There is still a stigma attached to a perceived "disadvantaged"’ background and one that can only be removed by being transparent about the issue and by building more bridges between education and employers.

What is needed – and wanted – is more openness about the challenges and far more commitment to initiatives that support an environment that gives everyone an equal and fair chance.

In June the charity IntoUniversity held a "Business in Focus" event for a class of 20 14-year-olds from Edinburgh's Craigmillar. The day gave the pupils the opportunity to talk to people in different jobs and learn about the various pathways they can take. These young people are at a critical stage of their education and lives and making them aware of what’s possible is hugely important in helping them to make decisions for their future.

In a similar vein, graduate apprenticeships are improving choices for people and providing a different pathway to a degree. Our own experience of these – and our work in offering work experience to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds with the employer-led charity, Movement to Work – has been hugely positive.

According to the UK’s Social Mobility Commission, among the four nations, Scotland is doing comparatively well. And we know from our study that many Scottish businesses are actively pursuing relevant programmes: 69 per cent are either involved in or plan to start mentoring schemes within the next year, while 76% of Scottish employers surveyed are looking at schemes such as graduate apprenticeships.

But while we might feel optimistic that change is happening as the issues are gradually brought into the open, just two in five employees from lower socioeconomic backgrounds across organisations in Scotland feel included in the workplace and only half feel safe to be open about their background.

More profound cultural change in the workplace is needed and for this to happen, social mobility must be given greater priority. Developing talent, regardless of background must be front and centre for all businesses.

David Caskie is Scotland Corporate Citizen Lead, Accenture