For many young and talented people in the UK, invisible social barriers unfairly hold them back from achieving their dreams. Professional services have long been accused of selecting only those from the ‘right background’. With the Government’s social mobility watchdog breathing down their necks, and with studies showing that diversity is good for the performance of firms, professional services firms are changing their culture to provide entry for a wide range of backgrounds. Deloitte is the latest Big 4 firm to create ways in, with its ‘contextualised academics’ programme – as well as a revamped Brightstart and Deloitte ASPIRE – targeted at school leavers.
The UK has one of the highest set of social barriers in place inhibiting social mobility. Disadvantage starts early; by the age of three, children from disadvantaged families are already nine months behind their upper middle class peers. At sixteen, children receiving school meals will on average achieve 1.7 grades lower on their GCSEs. For A levels, what school one goes to has a disproportionate effect on A* level achievement; 30% of A* achievers attend an independent school, while children attending such schools make up merely 7% of the general population.
Some professional opportunities are heavily conditioned by the school one attended. Independent school graduates take 32% of MP positions, 51% of medic roles, 54% of FTSE-100 chief executive places, 54% of top journalist positions and 70% of High Court judges.
The Government’s social mobility watchdog recently accused the professional services of “systematically excluding people with working class backgrounds from top jobs with a ‘poshness test’.” The research by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission found that the majority of jobs (70%) in the elite accounting, legal and financial services firms went to those that had attended the most prestigious and selective schools in the country, a group that made up between just 4% - 7% of the population as a whole.
As it stands, children from disadvantaged backgrounds have difficulty making it through the hoops set up by professional services firms. Recent research commissioned by EY shows that some of those hoops are irrelevant to eventual job performance, while recent BCG research shows that diversity has a huge potential benefit to organisations through different perspectives.
In a bid to provide improved access to places within its workforce, as well as improve diversity and business performance, Deloitte is the latest of the Big Four firms to create new avenues through which those that look less motivated and ambitious on paper, through lower grades, can make it into the firm’s ranks.
To improve the firm’s social-economic diversity performance, and broaden the background and perspective of its staff, Deloitte announced the creation of 1500 entry level positions where applicants are not selected on their educational attainment. This will only come up considerably later in the recruitment process, and then in a ‘contextualised’ manner. People will be assessed on their current capabilities, rather than the sometimes irrelevant aspects of their natural history.
When education does become relevant to selection, candidates are not compared to the best of academic achievement from independent school leavers, but relative to their individual background conditions. According to the firm: “Contextualisation allows us to recognise these important qualifications for young people, whilst also ensuring that for example 3Bs at A Level in a school where most students achieve 3Ds is recognised as exceptional performance.”
The firm will also seek to capture talent from across the UKs schools through the re-design and re-launch of the BrightStart scheme, which is the firm’s 5-year school leaver programme, with the aim of providing a stronger emphasis on social class independent entry conditions. The firm will from September 2016 onwards take in 200 students for its early career programme.
In addition, Deloitte launched a work experience programme, titled Deloitte ASPIRE, which is designed to help school age children gain insight into what will be expected of them from high calibre employers such as Deloitte. The programme will provide children – from a diverse range of backgrounds – access to their professional network and to help them develop work place skills. The programme will be open to those whom are eligible for free school meals, or attended a school with above average free school meal eligibility and are the first in their family to go to university. The programme will grow to 200 students in 2016.
The firm has in recent times been recognised for initiatives to improve access to its ranks for those with a diverse range of backgrounds. It has been named as one of 12 Social Mobility Business Compact Champions by the Department of Business, Innovation & Skills and is ranked in the 'Top 50 Companies for Diversity' list.