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Jonathan Andrews: Life chances and social mobility

Jonathan Andrews: Life chances and social mobility

Achieving equality of opportunity in the UK

How can we ensure equality in our workplaces? Queen’s Young Leader, Jonathan Andrews tells Leading Change about his ambition to improve social mobility and life chances.

I became a Queen’s Young Leader partly because of my passion for fair access to careers and improved social mobility and life chances. People should be able to make choices that work for them and aim as high as their talents allow, rather than being pushed – due to their background – into paths which don’t best use their abilities and interests.

Social mobility isn’t just important to me because I’ve personally experienced it. I spent all my education at non-selective state schools, with no tutoring outside the classroom, and made it to Cambridge and a leading city law firm.

But also because it’s fundamentally good business sense to hire people based on merit, not family contacts or the type of school attended.

Supporting students

I’m a big supporter of Future First, which helps create alumni networks among state schools. Students from state schools should be as equipped as those from schools with existing networks.

I helped launch my old school, Darrick Wood’s first ‘alumni network’ so that successful ex-students can share their experiences with current students, to inspire and guide them.

I’ve worked with many schools – speaking at careers events, giving assembly speeches, and passing on vital unwritten rules of how to break into law, that those without lawyers in their schools or families wouldn’t be aware of.

These are simple, low-cost gestures – but they can have great effects.

Jonathan Andrews at Future First

Future First helps create alumni networks among state schools

I hope that, by sharing my experience, current and future students – interested in careers and professions that are considered elite and exclusive – will have the confidence and know-how not just to apply, but to succeed.

I’ve worked with numerous organisations. Pure Potential focuses on providing job opportunities, open days, and targeted careers advice to students from state schools.

Access Professions maintained a free job board, so that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds could access opportunities.

As their first ever student ambassador, I supported the cause on campus, ensuring those from less well-off backgrounds – who were applying for jobs in the third year of their degrees – were able to make use of the site. As well as reaching large numbers of students across campuses nationally – to the extent that the number of students applying to Access Professions for legal roles shot up exponentially – I mentored several of those keen to be involved.


Social mobility is an area where workplaces need to step up. And my firm, Reed Smith, certainly haven’t disappointed here.

It seems that every week there is an initiative – an open day for aspiring students from local schools, or an overhaul of the recruitment system, moving from competency-based to strengths-based interviews to level the playing field so those without the connections can secure internships at big-name firms.

Reed Smith recognise, too, that the big issue is fair access and wider recruitment pools, rather than quotas.

The firm sponsors great organisations working across the legal and business spheres, such as Aspiring Solicitors. This fantastic organisation mentors students from non-traditional backgrounds to enter the legal profession, and works with firms to help them recruit from wider sources of talent.

As a Professional Ambassador, I’m approached by a huge number of people for advice on applications who are unable to receive comparable advice elsewhere. Overwhelmingly, that’s because they don’t have friends, family or colleagues with that experience.

Jonathan Andrews at a Social mobility meeting

Jonathan Andrews at a Social mobility meeting

I also work with the Social Mobility Business Partnership, a ground-breaking and award-winning initiative that matches young people from state schools with experienced professionals in the careers they are aiming for. This gives them first-hand exposure to those fields.


The most effective social mobility initiatives are targeted – including those that target overlapping issues, such as mental health and wellbeing.

Various projects I’ve led have considered the overlaps between social mobility and wellbeing, particularly in relation to ‘Imposter Syndrome’ – a non-clinical condition where people feel they are an ‘imposter’ in their role.

People from backgrounds that are sparsely represented in their workplace are more likely to feel they don’t ‘fit’, damaging their wellbeing.

Beyond mental health, employment opportunities are particularly important for disabled people, and those with conditions such as autism. As a trustee of a leading national charity, Ambitious about Autism, I direct the ‘Autism Exchange’. This provides internships for autistic people in a variety of companies, and autism awareness training for staff. It has grown from a civil service partnership to a project offering jobs across the private, public and third sectors.

People having lunch

Alumni Day at Darrick Wood School

I also developed and launched ‘Employ Autism’ – a campaign to raise the shockingly low autism employment rate (16%). This persuaded many companies to increase the opportunities they offer by making applications fairer and offering internships. These actions have helped many people enter employment, and they are often the first in their families to reach these sectors or positions.

And I provide advice to the government’s Work and Health Expert Advisory Group, as the government seeks to increase disability employment by one million.

This often requires disability-specific interventions, such as job carving – which reallocates job descriptions within a team, so that people with disabilities can focus on their strengths and succeed for themselves and the business.

But disability-specific interventions are not the only answer. Disabled people must be given advice on mainstream careers that fuel individuals’ social mobility.

I aim to take this further as an alumnus, aided by the opportunities the Queen’s Young Leaders Programme and the study at Cambridge has given me. I want to ensure that equality of opportunity – particularly job opportunities – effectively ensures all people, whatever their background, can achieve.

It’s not about giving anyone a job – but recognising people’s talents, supporting their determination, and ensuring unfair barriers don’t stand in their way.

"Britain has a deep social mobility problem... Only one in eight children from a low-income background is likely to become a high earner as an adult." 

Future First