Broadcaster will also introduce anonymised CVs; approach can benefit employers, says leading commission on social mobility

The BBC is to ask new employees whether they received free school meals, as part of what it said was a new approach to diversity.

The broadcaster, which employs around 20,000 people, said it would gather a range of background data from recruits as it turned the spotlight on socioeconomic inclusion.

It is understood that the voluntary questions will focus on the educational background of new employees and their families. The data will be used to target recruitment of those in under-represented groups.

A 2014 report from public body the Social Mobility & Child Poverty Commission found that a third of BBC executives graduated from Oxford or Cambridge, while one in four attended an independent school.

The broadcaster this week promised to gather socioeconomic information from all new employees; set recruitment and selection practices that drive the attraction, selection and retention of the best creative talent whatever their background, including using anonymised applications for the recruitment of all core roles; and embed diversity and inclusion throughout the BBC, with diversity objectives and unconscious bias training for all managers and interviewers.

BBC head of diversity, inclusion and succession Tunde Ogungbesan said: “We want diversity and inclusion to be business as usual at the BBC and at the heart of everything we do on and off air.

“That’s why I believe diversity includes everyone. The BBC belongs to everyone in the UK, whatever their background, so everyone at the BBC has a responsibility to ensure that we represent, and are representative of, the public we serve.”

A spokesman for the commission told People Management that it supported employers asking their staff background questions. “Without data, you don’t know whether you have a problem, and you certainly don’t know what that problem is,” he said. “It is a fairly natural human inclination to employ and promote people similar to yourself, so all organisations face a risk of being unrepresentative.

“This can damage employers as they may be losing out on talent that is out there but they don’t recognise; they can struggle to make the right connections with all potential customers; and they can miss out on opportunities by all thinking in the same way. They can also suffer from an image problem if people don’t think they are diverse.

“Social and economic questioning needs to be done sensitively but there is evidence that if you explain carefully to staff what you are trying to achieve, they generally become willing to help.”

A separate report from the commission at the end of last year set out the broad problem of social immobility. “Today’s Britain does not provide a level playing field on which people can aspire to succeed,” it warned.

“While educational attainment by children from disadvantaged families has improved over the last two decades, the gap between them and their more fortunate peers has improved only marginally.”

In March, People Management reported figures showing that, even though only 7 per cent of the population is educated at an independent school, they make up a third of MPs and CEOs of public bodies, and 22 per cent of chief constables.

The CIPD’s Employee Outlook: focus on careers and skills also found that poor line management is frequently more detrimental to those with poorer backgrounds, who are more likely to feel that their career has failed to meet expectations.