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The Class Ceiling: How socio-economic factors impact career choice (Part 3)

Jul 5, 2022 -

This is the final part of a short series exploring the impact socio-economic factors have on our career choice and what the accountancy, tax & treasury and legal sectors can do to increase working-class representation.

Welcome to the final part of The Class Ceiling. For those of you who’ve not yet read the first two parts, click here to see how class biases in the UK impact career choice (part 1) & here for a discussion about the barriers our sectors face in attracting talent from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (part 2).

We’ve established that the accountancy, tax & treasury and legal sectors fall short in attracting candidates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, but for those who do get their foot in the door, barriers remain. Namely, pay.

 

Pay Disparity

Last September, PwC found that just 14% of their UK employees were from a working-class background.

Shockingly, they also revealed that graduates from working-class backgrounds earn 11.5% less than their middle-class counterparts. KPMG followed suit and reported that their working-class employees were paid 8.6% less than those from other groups.

We’ve all heard about the gender pay gap, but the ‘class pay gap’ is equally concerning, yet less discussed.

By merely existing, this pay gap demonstrates that both conscious and unconscious classist biases continue to run rife in the workplace.

What is positive is that both of these Big 4 firms have openly recognised this issue and have set out ambitions to improve the social mobility of their employees from recruitment to career progression.

KPMG went one step further than its rivals by setting clear targets to increase the number of working-class employees. Their goal is to increase the number of Partners & Directors from working-class backgrounds to 29% by 2030. That compares with 23% of partners and 20% of directors at the moment.

KPMG Chair, Bina Mehta said she was a "passionate believer that greater diversity improves business performance…Diversity brings fresh thinking and different perspectives to decision-making, which in turn delivers better outcomes for our clients”.

However, these targets quickly came under scrutiny, with some claiming that they were a form of positive discrimination, meaning that applicants could be hired to tick a diversity box rather than on skill and merit. Some will argue that social mobility should happen naturally, as it has in the past, yet how long can we afford to wait without intervention for the workplace to reflect our diverse society?

It’s a difficult debate.

 

Round up

Class is complicated, undefined in law, and some would say ‘archaic’. Yet, here we are in 2022 and class continues to be a cause and even justification for inequality.

Drawing attention to the class-based inequalities we’re observing only goes so far, and it is going to take a quite radical change to truly achieve equality.

However, the steps highlighted in this blog are just the start. Solicitor apprenticeships increased by over 40% in one year, these issues around class are being tackled by the most influential of firms, it’s only a matter of time until this trickles down.

What discussing the topic of class also does is illuminate its intersection with other diversity areas such as race and gender. It enables us to drill down to paint an in-depth picture of where our biases lay, which is key to truly understanding how we go beyond vague virtue signalling.

Big 4 and Magic Circle firms will undoubtedly be those leading the way here, so let’s watch this space.

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