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While my family income growing up was on the lower end, I didn’t associate myself as being from a low socioeconomic background (LSEB) until I took part in a colleague survey. I knew that my background was different to other people, but I was fortunate to have an incredibly strong friend and family network, and was surrounded by positive role models, so I found it really enlightening to see what my data actually meant in terms of background.  

I feel very lucky to have been brought up in Cardiff during a time where the city was growing, and there were more opportunities available when it came to employment. However, one of the biggest professional challenges I’ve experienced due to my background is a lack of self-belief and belonging. This is something I’ve since seen impact many others from low socio-economic backgrounds, which makes me incredibly frustrated.

I strongly believe that those who come from a low socioeconomic background can bring a distinct value to businesses by using their experience as a tool. For me, my experience and background taught me to appreciate things more, look through the lens of others, and gave me the drive to work hard and earn a living. This transpired into many qualities that have served me well in my career so far including my rise through the ranks at Co-op – from fairness and empathy to positivity and having a growth mindset.

Increasing social mobility in the workplace can help businesses to foster diverse opinions and new ways of thinking, which can in turn lead to a ‘healthy tension’ that challenges the norm and enables new solutions that can propel the business to greater success.

Since becoming more comfortable in my own skin throughout my career, I’ve learned the importance of sharing stories and opening up the conversation about social mobility to help colleagues feel like they belong, regardless of their backgrounds. In particular, those in senior roles – like myself – and leadership positions, who can provide a source of motivation and hope. Being able to see someone succeeding in their career who has come from a similar background to you, who you can truly relate to, is really powerful – and I want to make sure that’s a feeling everyone has access to.

That’s why I am also part of Co-op’s social mobility taskforce, a working group that helps to ensure the business’ commitments around social mobility are met. As part of this, I’m a real advocate for encouraging collaboration with colleagues across a business to help people connect more and in doing so break down any barriers. My biggest piece of advice on social mobility day is to embrace your background and worry less about what others might think. Accelerate in what you can do – your background is your own unique superpower.

Mike Pengelly,

Head of Client Operations, Co-op Funeralcare

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