Grant Thornton celebrates the success of social mobility measures

26 September 2016

Social mobility remains an issue in the UK, with many of society’s top roles filled by those from a background of privilege. In recent years, Grant Thornton has changed its entry requirements policy as well as launched a number of programmes to improve access to the firm directly from school. A new study, following up on the changes to policy, highlights that the group of candidates that would have been screened out on educational criteria have more high performers in it than the group meeting the earlier selection criteria.

Questions about social mobility within the UK have arisen in recent years, as statistics time and again highlight that a small group of people from privileged backgrounds tend to be overly represented within the most lustrous professions. Last year, Deloitte reported that Independent school graduates, representing 7% of all UK school students, hold 32% of MP positions, 51% of medic roles, 54% of FTSE-100 chief executive places, 54% of top journalist positions and form 70% of High Court judges. This may be the result of relatively better study performance – students from Independent schools perform considerably better on GCSE and A-levels than peers – but that is just one part of the equation.

Recent studies have found that stunted selection for one group has, besides ethical considerations, implications for business performance. Work to reduce gender inequality has picked up in recent years, as have efforts to improve social mobility, with Deloitte, PwC and KPMG all launching efforts in the UK, including an initiative together with the MCA.

Grant Thornton celebrates the success of social mobility measures

Grant Thornton, as part of its efforts to improve access to the firm’s ranks for a more diverse background, commissioned a study into the effects of changes to its selection process. The study, which was run by The Bridge Group, a charitable policy association researching and promoting social mobility, took three years and involved 20,000 trainee candidates for both school leavers and graduates.

The data highlights that the previous entry requirements, including high-school performance and degree classification, is not indicative of employee performance. The study found that 38% of those that would have been, on the bases of their grades, screened out prior to the entry policy changes, are subsequently deemed strong performers, compared to 34% of those whom did meet the earlier requirements.

To further open up the firm’s ranks to a more diverse social and economic background, the firm has removed an emphasis on applicants having extracurricular achievements and relevant work experience, instead the firm will provide one-to-one coaching for candidates between interview rounds as well as create an online peer-to-peer support network.

Rachel Hill, Social Mobility and Senior Manager at Grant Thornton, comments, “We started our social mobility journey over three years ago with a vision for the firm to be more representative at all levels of the socioeconomic demographic of wider society. More young people are considering different routes into the world of work, with some preferring to consider school leaver programmes over higher education. Regardless of what age they choose to join the workforce, we believe that our profession should be open to those who have talent and ambition, regardless of socioeconomic background.”

Nik Miller, Director, The Bridge Group, says, “There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating that Grant Thornton’s investment in a more diverse workforce is paying off. The extent to which the firm has been willing to take measured risks, to robustly assess the impact of its policy changes, and the commitment from senior colleagues, is to be celebrated. This locates the firm at the heart of a community of organisations that are realising more equal access to the professions and, as a consequence, gaining competitive advantage by accessing new talent and unlocking improved performance.”

Earlier this year EY and KPMG made several tweaks to their job application process in a bid to better match the demands of young talent, while in Australia, Big Four rival PwC made the headlines with its decision to ditch its formal dress code for staff.