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PwC Chair backs ‘back to the office’ call to close socio-economic pay gaps

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 04 Oct 2021

Lockdowns may have forced a monumental shift in working practices and made homeworking the norm for many, but as restrictions ease PwC UK Chairman Kevin Ellis has stressed the importance of encouraging young accountants to return to the office, or risk hindering their learning and development and the profession’s attempts to close socio-economic pay gaps.

Although many experts predict that hybrid working looks set to become mainstream working practice, the UK’s largest accountancy firm has said encouraging young workers back into the office is both good for the business and important to individuals, particularly those whose home set-up is far from the perfect working environment.

Kevin Ellis, Chairman and Senior Partner at PwC, said this isn’t simply about whether staff have space and quiet to work. Ellis said the main reason young people, especially those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, are missing out is they get less opportunity to learn from others and build confidence and networks. 

“Professional services firms are built around learning and development. A big part of learning comes from face-to-face interaction - observing others, reading people’s reactions, consulting with others over decisions and judgments. That’s one of the key reasons I want to give younger employees the opportunity to come into the office,” Ellis said.

“Firms will obviously see the benefit of this, but there are other important reasons to let young employees use an office. We know from speaking and surveying the younger people in our firm that many don’t have a suitable space to work at home, particularly those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Ellis continued.

Earlier this month as part of its FY21 Annual Report, PwC UK published its socio-economic background and disability pay gaps for the first time, after the firm published a breakdown of its ethnicity pay gap last year. Around 80% of PwC employees have shared data on their socio-economic background and the firm’s analysis shows that 14% of respondents come from a lower socio-economic background. This figure is based on the number of our people who have disclosed the occupation of their highest-earning parent when they were 14, the best measure of background available, according to the Social Mobility Commission

PwC has a targeted action plan in place to increase social mobility through its recruitment, development and progression of employees. In November last year, the firm was ranked the top UK employer in the Social Mobility Employer Index 2020. The Index, created by the Social Mobility Foundation, identifies Britain’s employers that have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace. This is the second year running that PwC has topped the ranking.

“Closing the profession’s socio-economic pay gaps involves attracting more people from lower socio-economic backgrounds and ensuring more progress up to senior roles. If people have the opportunity to socialise and learn from others, make friends and build networks, I believe they are more likely to enjoy their work, be successful, and want to build careers in the profession,” Ellis said.

Ellis said that accountancy firms were “people businesses” that thrive on diversity of people and ideas working with a shared purpose and values which drive the culture. “When our people come together the culture is brought to life - and, as an architect once said to me, the office acts as a temple to the culture.”

PwC says it is investing more in offices and making sure our people have the flexibility to work from home some of the time if they prefer.

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