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Accounting firms recognised for social mobility work

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 25 Nov 2021

Efforts to increase social mobility across accountancy have been recognised after three of the UK’s largest firms made it into the top 10 rankings of the Social Mobility Foundation’s 2021 Employer Index.

KPMG came second in the index, retaining a top-three ranking for the fifth consecutive year just behind law firm Browne Jacobson. Meanwhile, fourth placed Grant Thornton has consistently ranked as a top 10 social mobility employer since the launch of the Index in 2017. Despite topping the rankings for the last two years, PwC fell to sixth place. Deloitte came in at number 12. EY’s UK firm was the only Big Four member not to participate.

The Index identifies employers that have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace and assesses employers across seven key areas, including their work with young people, routes into the company, how they attract talent, recruitment and selection, and progression. It has become the authority on employer-led social mobility since its creation in 2017. 

Progress made, but intake remains a concern

This year, 203 employers from 18 sectors were considered for the Top 75 rankings with the employers represented in the 2021 Index collectively employing 1.35m people across the UK.

Professional services represented only 6% of index entrants in 2021, lower than in any year since 2018. Intake remains a particular area of concern: while 49% of applicants to graduate programmes were from Russell Group universities, the rate of those accepted from Russell Group universities was 62%. This 13 percentage point gap has grown from 2020.

Sarah Atkinson, CEO of the Social Mobility Foundation, said: “Since the inception of the Index, we have had a small number of committed firms and believe it is time for others in the sector to join them. It is disappointing to see progress on university intake go into reverse. Employers have been given specific guidance for rewarding potential over ‘polish’. However, this should not preclude other excellent work that firms represented in the Index are undertaking – especially KPMG and PwC, which have committed to measuring, tracking and closing their class pay gaps.”

Kevin Hogarth, UK Chief People Officer at KPMG, said the firm’s focus on social mobility was driven by the belief that it not only helped build a fairer and more equitable society but because it also leads to improved business performance. “Greater diversity on all fronts brings with it fresh thinking, different perspectives and ultimately better outcomes for our business and our clients.”

Hogarth said despite progress, there was still more to do: “From being the first business to publish comprehensive socio-economic background workforce data back in 2016, to recently reporting our socio-economic background pay gaps and setting ourselves ambitious targets, we’ve come a long way, but we must continue to challenge ourselves. 

Purpose over profits ‘performs better’

The OECD has warned that the UK has one of the poorest rates of social mobility in the developed world, meaning that people born into low-income families, regardless of their talent, or their hard work, do not have the same access to opportunities as those born into more privileged circumstances. 

Evidence suggests that companies that place purpose over profits perform better in the long term, the World Economic Forum says. However, its global mobility index published in January ranked the UK 21st, and fifth out of the G7.

Reacting to the Social Mobility Foundation rankings Michael Izza, ICAEW Chief Executive, said he was delighted to see several accountancy firms on the list, including three in the top ten. “The accountancy profession must be as diverse and inclusive as possible to ensure we maintain wider perspectives when problem-solving and developing new ideas. It is therefore good to see firms being recognised for taking positive action to increase representation of people from different backgrounds.”

Sharon Spice, Access Accountancy Chair, said it was great that several accountancy firms have been recognised by the Social Mobility Employer Index for their work to boost social mobility. “Accountancy is a profession for everyone, no matter their background, and having a diverse workforce benefits organisations by giving them a wider pool of experience and knowledge to draw from. We’ll continue to work with our member organisations, and those yet to join, to ensure accountancy remains welcoming to everyone.”

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