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Celebrating the inaugural Social Mobility Awareness Day

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 15 Jun 2022

As the cost-of-living crisis pushes more people into debt than ever before, the need to open access to the profession to those from across the socio-economic spectrum is more important than ever.

Organisations across the UK are today taking part in the country’s first Social Mobility Awareness Day, which aims to improve awareness of social mobility and help firms take positive action.

The pandemic affected many aspects of society, but one element it hit hard was the UK’s social mobility. Perhaps more alarmingly, though, social mobility was already on the decline before COVID-19 took hold. According to the 2019 State of the Nation report by The Social Mobility Commission, an advisory non-departmental public body, social mobility in the UK had stagnated for at least four years, leading to big increases in child poverty from 2012.

At the time, the Commission warned that without urgent targeted action, social mobility looked set to go backwards and the attainment gap between the wealthy and disadvantaged would grow even wider.

In its most recent State of the Nation report, the Commission found that “Disadvantaged pupils in England are now as much as seven months behind their more privileged peers at school, including the gaps that grew in the last year. Young people have been more susceptible to job losses, with an 8.7% drop for working class men aged 16-24.

“Now is not the time to cut public spending.”

Up until around 2010, Britons could expect their children to fare better than themselves, but the latest report highlights that the correlation between opportunities and background is strikingly clear. “Today, you are still 60% more likely to be in a professional job if you were from a privileged background rather than a working-class background,” the report warns.

Social mobility matters – and not just because it’s fair and right that people from different backgrounds should be afforded the same opportunities. Diversity of thought is critical to the new digital world. The damaging effects of group think when management and boardrooms are made up of white, middle-aged men from privileged backgrounds can be extremely damaging.

Lily Montgomery, Partner and Human Resources at HW Fisher, says: “Having a diverse staff culture, promoted on our website through the visibility of partner profiles, has really helped us to attract candidates from all backgrounds.

“Flexible working is also important. Allowing staff to be flexible with their hours means that you naturally open up opportunities to a wider selection of candidates and this also helps to retain existing staff who may need arrangements outside of the ‘nine-to-five’ norm.”

In recent years, with the advent of the so-called third industrial revolution and an increasing skills shortage, more employers have begun taking action by adapting their recruitment strategies and providing more targeted training to improve equality of opportunity.

In the UK, Deloitte uses contextual recruitment systems, givingour recruiters a range of standardised data on candidates' economic background and personal circumstances, allowing them to make more informed choices about candidates by considering the context in which their academic achievements have been gained”. Most of the Big Four firms and many large accountancy firms apply similar tactics to hire candidates from low-income backgrounds.

Apprenticeship schemes across the accountancy profession have long been established, but attracting school leavers into accountancy apprenticeships has gained real traction in the past five years.

 “University is an expensive option and is increasingly no longer the default for those leaving school,” Montgomery says. “Apprenticeship schemes open up opportunities for those who may not be able to afford university. They can take up school-leaver places and end up at no disadvantage in their future career.”

The challenges of a growing opportunity gap in the wake of COVID-19 has led to The Social Mobility Pledge, whose signatories include UK businesses such as BP, Compass Group, Direct Line Group and many accountancy firms, large and small and institutes. The key features of the Pledge include outreach, access and recruitment.

Access Accountancy, established in 2014, is also supporting today’s first Social Mobility Awareness Day. The initiative brings together more than 26 organisations and professional bodies aimed at improving access to, and progression within, the accountancy profession in the UK.

Sharon Spice, Chair of Access Accountancy, and ICAEW’s Global Director of Marketing, Brand and Belonging, says: “Our mission is to boost access to the profession, particularly for young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who may not have thought about accountancy.

“We know there is more to do to make accountancy inclusive and diverse, and that’s why firms and organisations across the sector set up Access Accountancy and are taking action to drive change. We’re pleased to support Social Mobility Awareness Day, and we’ll continue to work with our members to create a profession that truly reflects the society it serves.”

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