17/09/2015 12:44 BST | Updated 17/09/2016 06:12 BST

If You Want to Support Social Mobility, Measure It

Government, not for profits and think tanks are starting to bring evidence to light that businesses need to be involved in providing opportunities to people from all backgrounds. We are now seen as part of the solution to financial inequality.

Social mobility is also a topic that's rising up the corporate agenda. Businesses like Enterprise are hungry for fresh talent, so it makes sense to spread the net as widely as possible. The wider a net is cast when it comes to recruitment, the broader the talent pool becomes, and the quality of candidates improves.

As we are a regional business with branches located within 10 miles of almost everyone in the UK, Enterprise Rent-A-Car already has a long-standing policy of reflecting the communities in which we are located. Diversity is a global business strategy and also part of our culture, and we have seen that it helps to drive customer service and business success.

So we recruit from a very diverse pool, which spans different genders and ethnicities, as well as every university in the UK as we primarily recruit graduates. We are also open to a very wide range of degree subjects and unlike many other businesses, we don't specify a grade. We employ people with firsts, seconds and thirds.

But what we realised when the government and others started to highlight how businesses can play a part in increasing social mobility is that we actually had no idea how good or bad we were at this, because we lack the data. This is probably true of most organisations. We know our people inside out professionally. But what is their background? Where do they come from? We just didn't know.

So we became aware of the need to take a detailed look at the background of our employees, so that we could analyse what we were doing well and also find and areas for improvement.

We began a UK-wide exercise to gather data on the social background of our employees. We analysed factors including whether employees had been on free school meals, whether their parents had attended university, and whether employees themselves had received grants or bursaries in order to attend university.

It sounds easy, but actually it was hard and took time. We had to engage people and explain why we wanted this information. Some employees are very forthcoming about the challenges of their childhood. But not everyone wants to tell you that they couldn't afford holidays and new clothes when they were growing up - let alone food.

The data that we have collected has already helped us to achieve several things. On the most basic level it has allowed us to gain an overview of Enterprise Rent-A-Car and who we really are as a company. It turns out that over half of our current senior managers were the first generation to go to university. About one-in-five had been eligible for free school meals and/or Educational Maintenance Allowance.

In turn this has helped us to draw connections between performance at work and social background.

This measuring exercise was particularly important because it has allowed us to identify areas in which Enterprise can improve, plus we have the data to show how we can do this and why it is a priority. Since we initiated this project, we have now begun to collect this information from candidates voluntarily with a 99% completion rate.

It's the old idea that 'you can't manage what you can't measure', and the fact that by putting in place a system to track performance in terms of engendering social mobility, we can continually assess our position, and look to enhance it.

In a very practical sense, we now have information that we can take to the universities from which we recruit and we can discuss ways they can improve the performance of their graduates through our job application process. Using the data collected to feed back to universities on the performance of their candidates at assessment centres, as well as in the early years of their careers, so that they can adapt the careers advice and work-readiness training that they provide to their students.

While it can be a painstaking process, this exercise has reinforced the importance of measurement and data-capture at the heart of Enterprise Rent-A-Car's company culture, policies and strategies. Putting in place an exercise such as this has not only created a foundation for action on social mobility now, but a system by which the company can frequently and continually consider its strategy in this area, and continue to improve on it in the years to come.