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Civil Service

Social mobility - more support to progress

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Our Civil Service
Head shot of Geraldine Clement
Geraldine Clement, Ministry of Justice






Picture in your mind someone with this background:

  • father’s occupation: labourer
  • mother migrated to UK
  • born and raised in a working-class area
  • broken home in childhood
  • free school dinners
  • no access to higher education

When I was at primary school, I was told that I'd better be careful because many people with this sort of background ended up on the wrong side of the law. I'm not sure if that's true. And, as it happens, it’s my background, yet I am on the Future Leaders Scheme and identified as someone with the ability to reach the highest levels of the Civil Service.

How did I break down barriers, and what’s happening in the Civil Service now that makes it easier for you to break down the barriers that confront you?

Where skills can come from

When I was a kid and my mum used to take me with her to the local DHSS (DWP nowadays) I hated it. I hated the waiting and the endless hours of indignity as they’d treat my mum – a proud and clever Indian migrant – to racism and sexism. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I knew I never wanted any children I might have to experience life like that.   

That kind of determination and focus on an end goal gave me two things: resilience and adaptability – resilience to withstand pressure; adaptability to do whatever was needed. And I made sure that I was respected and that my own family had more positive childhood memories.    

These are the sort of skills recruitment panels look for in prospective candidates. Far from being a disadvantage, the experiences I had as a child gave me the attributes which are a perfect fit for the Civil Service.  

The value of mentoring

I started my Civil Service career running projects in an operational delivery area, and realised I enjoyed finding better ways to achieve results. Wanting to extend the scope to find efficiencies I took the advice of my excellent director, jumped professions and took project and programme management courses to develop PPM skills. I realised that if I could help design policies to be more effective in the first place, then I could help raise productivity, so I joined a policy team in a major change programme.  

Mentoring and a flexible approach were key to my progression. I knew I needed to move on from operational delivery, but I didn’t know how or the best way to go. My director acted as my mentor, helping me to understand my core values and then how to frame my career.

It’s not always been easy to find mentors, but nowadays you can tap into some brilliant people through the Mutual Mentoring Scheme. This gives you access to those at the highest levels of the Civil Service, where you provide them with your perspectives and experiences and they provide you with advice and guidance. Other departmental mentoring schemes may also apply.

How can you get up if you’re down?

There were hard times. I felt the frustration of having no support and no realistic prospect of promotion. Looking back, I wish there had been a group of like-minded people I could go to, people who had experience of limiting beliefs that had held them back and were in a position to understand and help me.

So, I am absolutely delighted to say that two interlinked networks focusing solely on social mobility have been formed: the Civil Service Opportunity Network (CSON) and the Fast Stream Opportunity Network (FSON).

These networks will work to help staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds achieve their potential, including building their confidence, resilience and presentation skills.

The networks will be launched with support from Sir Jeremy Heywood, John Manzoni, Jon Thompson and Chief People Officer Rupert McNeil. I am privileged to be part of their inception and I encourage everyone to become involved.

The refreshed Talent Action Plan shows how committed the Civil Service now is to having a diverse and inclusive workforce. The CSON and FSON will play a big part in the change, and you can be part of it, too.  

For more information on the Mutual Mentoring Scheme, contact Nicola Elder:


For more information on the networks, contact Charlotte Dring for CSON:; and Nicola Hanns for FSON:>

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  1. Comment by Lindsay posted on

    Well said.
    There are always jobs available, but most likely not the step up from what you are doing now.
    Comfort is the enemy to progression. Though progression can be a comfort all in itself

    If you want to progress, sometimes its better to move sideways into a different team, diagonally up into a totally new role that you have some background in, or even diagonally down if it really develop you into a field you've wanted to be in for a long time.

    Jumping into another directorate or different job role is a scary affair, but if any one is complaining about progression, are they really comfortable where they are?

    Here is a question for everyone
    How many of the new leaders do you see that worked up the ranks, in one directorate from the bottom to the top?

  2. Comment by LITTLE LONDONER posted on

    If you live in the South Wales valleys, get a job in the Land Registry (Swansea), the Office for National Statistics (Newport) or the Defence Aviation Repair Agency (St Athan). And if you live near the junction of Wales and England, there are 1K vacancies in Defence Equipment and Support in Abbey Wood, North Bristol.

  3. Comment by Amy Farrah-Fowler posted on

    Picture in your mind someone with this background:
    father’s occupation: civil servant
    mother's occupation: teacher
    born and raised in a middle-class town
    loving and united home in childhood
    paid for school dinners
    One of the country's top grammar schools (where everyone went on to university) and then an effortless move to one of the world's top ten universities

    As it happens, that's my background. Yet I have struggled to make it to Grade 7. Geraldine speaks of her determination and focus on an end goal, two things at which she is better than me. In part, I have had no end goal of advancing as far as I can in the civil service because nobody ever suggested I would be going anywhere (unless they thought that, with all those advantages above, it didn't need saying) - I had nobody like Geraldine's director to suggest that push was going to get anywhere. I had a couple of goes at the fast stream - feedback went no further than saying I hadn't been successful, even though I was an existing civil servant. My limiting belief was one that said the civil service would value my intellectual skills by themselves, with others providing leadership and other skills to complement them.

    So I think the message from Geraldine's piece is push, push, push to get yourself onto development programmes of the kind described here, regardless of background. Demand mentoring, and development. When you have an idea for a more effective policy, don't just accept someone from head office ignoring your evidence and saying you're wrong (as happened to me early on). There's no reason why any kind of background (even coming from South Wales!) should convince you that you can't be a leader. We're not all destined to be leaders, but if that's your forte, go for it!

  4. Comment by Terry posted on

    This is really positive story but the reality in HMRC it is increasingly difficult for SO’s who don’t have a University Education to progress to Grade 7 because an increasing number of Grade 7 jobs are being offered to graduate trainees on Tax Specialist Programmes rather than vacancies being filled by open competition on the merit. A person with a University degree now has a greater opportunity to progress within HMRC than someone with years of experience and specialist knowledge who has worked their way up through the grades and is more likely to be from a lower socio-economic background. I don’t think this is positive way to help staff from lower socio-economic backgrounds achieve their potential.

  5. Comment by David posted on

    Where's the support for disadvantaged "invisible" minorities, like people from the South Wales Valleys? We have some of the worst social and economic deprivation in Europe, yet our needs are always ignored while others get priority. Perhaps we need to shout a bit louder.

    • Replies to David>

      Comment by Oh David... posted on

      This is the support for people who are, for example, from the valleys of South Wales and "have some of the worst social and economic deprivation in Europe". This is about the launch of a network based on social mobility. How did you miss that this included South Wales? Just because the anecdote included overcoming barriers of racism and sexism as well as socio-economic background doesn't change this. I'm not sure how, given the blog is about social mobility, you think people in South Wales are invisible - care to explain?

      Perhaps you should get in touch with the people who are listed at the bottom of the blog, David. They might be able to help.

      • Replies to Oh David...>

        Comment by Greg posted on

        Well said, 'Oh David'.
        David - this network is about social mobility so it IS for you as well as for the writer or any other race or gender/ You are not being ignored, you are ignoring an opportunity that is for you, as much as the writer of this blog. Do not allow yourself to feel excluded.
        Make the most of all advantages around - do not exclude yourself.

        Diversity needs everyone to work.

  6. Comment by Steph B posted on

    It's a nice positive story. I'd never heard of the Future Leaders Scheme but have learned it's aimed at G6s & G7s aiming for SCS. I'm interested in how someone from a disadvantaged background managed to reach G7 - there must be more to it than just having a mentor, surely?

  7. Comment by DM posted on

    The reality is if you are a white single dad the chance of progression within the Civil Service is nil no matter how talented you are. If you are not open to 1.5 hours travel each way to work then you can forget it as far as the Civil Service is concerned. Positive discrimination by giving preferential treatment to minority groups is still DISCRIMINATION and means that white male individuals are the least helped. You add in the fact of being a lone parent and the Civil Service offers you no hope! That's the reality no matter how social mobility positive discrimination is spun!!