Accountancy firms in top three for social mobility

PwC has been named the top UK employer for social mobility for the second year running, with Grant Thornton taking second place and KPMG ranked third

The Social Mobility Employer Index identifies Britain’s employers that have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. This year 125 employers from 18 sectors were considered for the Top 75 rankings, which were dominated by law firms (36%) and the public sector (25%), with financial services accounting for 13%.

Employers are assessed across seven key areas, including their work with young people, routes into the company, how they attract talent, recruitment and selection, and progression.

PwC said its measures include increasing the variety of routes for people of all backgrounds into the firm, engaging with a wide range of schools and universities across the country and, specifically, providing both employment and schools outreach in Bradford - a government identified social mobility opportunity area.

The firm made a number of adaptations in the wake of Covid-19 to mitigate some of the impact the crisis could have on its employees, new starters, apprentices and potential hires. This included creating accessible, virtual alternatives that delivered similar experiences and benefits as in person programmes, and filling support gaps created by the crisis in skills training, career development, recruitment and mental health support.

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC UK said: ‘The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged people, regions and groups, and there's a risk that progress isn't just slowed but reversed. Many employers are doing fantastic work in this space and together we need to redouble our efforts to open up opportunities to more people.’

Grant Thornton, which has consistently ranked as a top 10 social mobility employer since the launch of the Index in 2017, said it has prioritised social mobility for over five years.

Core measures the firm has introduced include detailed pay and progression dashboards that allow leaders to review reward and progression alongside socio-economic background; publishing detailed social mobility background data  for the first time in 2020, including the proportion of partners who received free school meals; and advanced data collection used to update intersectionality analysis, such as the correlations between employees’ socio-economic background, gender and ethnicity and rates of progression, performance, reward, retention and lateral hiring.

Karen Campbell-Williams, partner and board sponsor for social mobility at Grant Thornton UK, said: ‘Our approach has always been driven by data, and we’re proud of the progress we’ve recently made in both data collection and reporting.

‘This strong data results in well-targeted outreach with schools that have above average levels of Free School Meals and/or low levels of attainment and with our outreach in social mobility cold spots, through our work with ICAEW Rise.

‘However, there’s more work to be done.  The most recent (2019) State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission found the UK’s better off are still 80% more likely to make it into professional jobs than those from working-class backgrounds.’

KPMG held its a top-three ranking on social mobility for the fourth consecutive year.

Kevin Hogarth, UK head of people at KPMG, said: ‘The firm is very committed to widening access to the profession. Having recently hired over 600 graduates and over 200 apprentices, we are clearly in a position to make a difference to the lives of many young people.

‘The firm also looks closely at socio-economic background, including whether its people attended a non-selective state school or were the first generation in their family to attend university. Only with this data can we truly measure and make progress.’

Other financial services organisations on the list were the Financial Conduct Authority, ranked at number 27, the Bank of England (32) and HMRC (44th place).

The Social Mobility Foundation, which produces the index, said that despite the government focus on levelling up, only 36% of businesses are setting social mobility targets within their organisation despite 85% of respondents feeling their clients care about the social class mix of their workforce.

It said many businesses are not being transparent about who they employ with only 29% of entrants publishing socio-economic background data on their workforce.

Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Foundation, said: ‘As the Covid-19 crisis continues and the UK descends into a sharp recession, avoiding a jobs catastrophe for young people must become a priority for all large employers.  

Already 60% of the jobs that have been lost since the pandemic began have been among 18-24-year olds. While older people have been the principal health victims of Covid-19.

‘It is incumbent on government and business to ensure that young people are not its social and economic victims.

‘Those businesses who have benefitted most financially from Covid-19 have the biggest duty to give back. The tech giants in particular need to take urgent action to put social mobility on their agendas.’

Further reading:

Social Mobility Employer Index 2020

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