On 25th February, WhiteHat hosted leading HR professionals for dinner at Quo Vadis, Soho, to discuss the key issues companies are facing at the moment. With attendees from BP, Google and The Go-Ahead Group, amongst others, the conversation covered numerous prevailing themes, including the digital skills gap, gender pay gap, perceptions of apprenticeships, and, inevitably, the impact of Brexit.

Helmut Schuster, Group HR Director at BP, kicked off the dinner with some powerful insights into the key issues companies are facing at the moment, setting the scene for the dinner. He shared thoughts around how the socioeconomic status of parents determines both the opportunities that are afforded to children, their academic attainment and their confidence.

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Helmut illustrated this by delivering a short quiz on youth attainment outcomes to attendees which illustrated the huge disparity between children from middle class families and those who come from more disadvantaged backgrounds. The answers? Whilst 67% of better-off pupils achieve A* to C in English and Maths GCSE, only 39% of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve the same scores. Along a similar theme, 85% of pupils from private schools attend university. That’s compared to 21% of pupils on free school meals. Whilst 14% of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are considered less likely to be school-ready by the age of 5 than students from advantaged backgrounds.

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To end the quiz, Helmut shared a quote that the room was surprised to learn was from the UK Corporate Governance Code, “companies do not exist in isolation. Successful and sustainable businesses underpin our economy and society by providing employment and creating prosperity.” A promising sign that both businesses and government understand how important it is that companies are net contributors to wider society.

Helmut concluded his introductory talk with impassioned comments around how companies need to focus on how they can drive socioeconomic diversity in their businesses for the success of the organisation and the benefit of broader society, and that we all have a moral obligation to do our part. He believes apprenticeships can offer that opportunity.

We asked guests what their key takeaways from the dinner were:

  • What was very evident was that no matter the sector, the same issues are at the top of the agenda and opportunities like this to learn from peers are welcome. It was interesting to realise that we are all addressing the same fundamental people challenges.
  • It was comforting to hear more about specific experiences that other businesses had on their journey, as we were all at different stages of implementation.
  • Everyone there seemed to be aligned with the notion that Corporate Social Responsibility and the role of companies in society has become a bigger priority on peoples’ and companies’ minds.
  • As a non-levy paying company, we should use the time we have to build the business case and appetite for apprenticeships, so that we’re well positioned once we start paying the levy to take advantage of it..

One of the guests was kind enough to comment that “the infectious passion of the two founders and their team really blew me away”, and another said they “thought the opportunity for sharing insights and gaining knowledge was definitely greater than other events I’ve attended”. For our part, we found the passion of the HR leaders to drive for societal change truly inspiring, and we look forward to continuing the conversation in subsequent events.

If you are an HR leader and would like to be considered for future Thought Leader Dinners please contact us at cofounders@whitehat.org.uk.