Using data

Measuring socio-economic diversity is often the biggest barrier employers face. But it is critical to overcome this so that data underpins your strategy.

Ask applicants and employees four questions (which are set out in full in Appendix A):

  • parental occupation at age 14
  • type of school attended at age 11–16
  • free school meal eligibility
  • highest parental qualification*

These questions may not be new and only take five minutes to complete. The gold standard is to ask them all, and 4 in 10 employers in the Social Mobility Index do this. But parental occupation is the most effective as it typically gets high response rates, is accessible to those from all nationalities and is a strong predictor of outcomes. So if you can only ask one, ask this one.

Consistency is key. Building these questions into your HR systems, alongside other data on characteristics, attainment and performance, allows you to monitor progress against key indicators such as:

  • the representativeness of your applicant pool
  • the profile of your workforce by socio-economic background
  • relative success rates at recruitment and promotion, by socio-economic background
  • how socio-economic background relates to other forms of diversity
  • correlation between performance in the selection process and job performance
  • relationships between socio-economic background and pay, progression and job performance

* This is used as an assessment of university access and is useful mainly to employers that invest heavily in graduate recruitment. There is no definitive national benchmark but 2018 data from the Department for Education shows that 26% of students from low incomes enter higher education by age 19 compared to 43% of their better-off peers.


Questions to use to measure socio-economic background

National benchmarks

Parental occupation at age 14


Type of school attended at age 11–16

7.5% Independent schools

Free school meal eligibility

15% Pupils at state-funded schools

Driving up response rates

Enabling high response rates to these questions is as important as asking them: the quality and value of the data you collect depends on this. Applicants and employees may not be used to being asked, and may worry about providing this type of information, so it is important to understand and minimise any concerns. You can take several steps to increase response rates:

  • ensure they understand how and why the information is relevant to the organisation and their experiences at work
  • consider the culture of your organisation – is it open and inclusive, or are there concerns about possible discrimination?
  • ensure easy access to information on how their details will be used, and on confidentiality
  • provide opportunities to disclose this information on an ongoing basis

Applicants and employees are more likely to engage positively with these questions if they see them as an integrated part of your strategy for promoting diversity and inclusion. Share examples of how diversity information has been used to plan initiatives and to identify and remove barriers that people like them may have faced.

Issues around data storage and use are critically important, as some respondents may be concerned that their data could disadvantage them or encourage discrimination or harassment. You need to be clear about:

  • whether individuals can be identified from the data they provide
  • whether information will be stored separately from personal details and in line with data protection rules
  • who will have access to the information
  • whether they might be contacted as a result of the information they have given, for example, to share materials about support related to a protected characteristic (though this is generally discouraged)