Consulting firms among UK's top employers for social mobility

03 July 2017 8 min. read

A new index to promote upward mobility has found Grant Thornton to be the top UK employer social mobility. They were joined in the top 20 by Big Four members KPMG in second place, Deloitte in fifth and PwC in seventh and EY as the 16th best employer for social mobility. While the top firms are moving to tackle the issue however, the Index also revealed a sustained effort is still needed to boost state-school intake at top firms.

The Social Mobility Index, run in partnership with the City of London Corporation, found that increasing number of employers set mobility targets, however the research also showed that 61% of all successful applicants to companies polled attended one of the country’s 24 most selective universities. The project, launched by the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission, ranks British employers on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to accessing and progressing talent from all backgrounds.

The survey took in almost 100 employers from 17 sectors, with a collective staff of just under one million. Companies submitted applications for the ranking regarding their practices and procedures for areas of importance such as working with young people, recruitment and progression.

Consulting Mobility

In the maiden year of the Index, Grant Thornton ranked as the top UK employer for social mobility. Grant Thornton has been reaping the rewards of a concerted mobility campaign in recent months. Following the removal of academic barriers to entry and emphasis on measures that would discriminate along socio-economic boundaries, the firm commissioned a study into the effects of changes to its selection process. The paper by The Bridge Group, an independent charitable policy association, examined 20,000 trainee candidates for both school leavers and graduates. The results showed that entry requirements based on high-school performance and degree classification, were not indicative of employee performance, while 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.

Top 10 employers for social mobility in the UK

Speaking after the consulting firm took top spot, Sacha Romanovitch, CEO at Grant Thornton UK, said, “We started our social mobility journey over three years ago with a vision for the firm to be more representative of all levels of society. Investing in social mobility is a win-win and a great example of business doing well by doing good. Businesses get access to a hidden talent pool, bringing diverse perspectives and better reflecting the clients we serve. Communities benefit through recognition of talent and the reward of opportunities and development.”

Grant Thornton were joined in the top 20 by Big Four firms KPMG, Deloitte, PwC, EY. Ranking second in the list, KPMG was the first UK business to publish comprehensive data on the socio-economic makeup of its workforce, with the company committed to push social mobility further up its agenda, with officials citing Brexit as a key example of why a lack of opportunity for people from lower-income backgrounds can no longer be ignored.

Melanie Richards, vice chair of KPMG in the UK, said, “Social mobility is no longer just a matter of fairness but an economic necessity. The publication of this new ranking couldn’t be timelier. We know that the UK is one of the least socially mobile countries in the OECD.”

In fifth place, Deloitte was the largest firm ranked by the Social Mobility Index to adopt contextualised recruitment, an analytic method which views a candidate’s aptitude while considering the proportional financial and social inequalities they have faced to reveal the true level of potential in each candidate. The firm also recently launched a five-year social impact strategy to help improve the lives of one million people.

Emma Codd, managing partner for talent of Deloitte UK & Deloitte North West Europe said, “We strongly believe a person’s background shouldn’t dictate their future. At Deloitte, we are working hard to ensure that our talent pool is diverse and reflects the make-up of today’s society and have taken various steps to make this happen. We want to show that everyone can thrive, develop and succeed in our firm based on their talent and their potential.”

Concluding the presence of the consulting industry in the top 10 meanwhile, seventh-ranked PwC announced in 2015 that it was scrapping its points-based UCAS requirement for its graduate scheme, and while creating a new fully-funded technology degree apprenticeship with the Universities of Birmingham and Leeds.

EY ranked a distant 16th, despite removing its entry criteria in a similar move to top firm Grant Thornton, resulting in a 75% increase in applications, while the professional services firm went on to create a further 200 apprenticeship vacancies via the EY Business Apprenticeship, to give young employees an opportunity to gain a foothold in the company. The firm were also named along with Deloitte, KPMG, Grant Thornton and Accenture as part of a 12 strong selection of Social Mobility Champions by the UK government in 2014.

Mandy Love, EY’s partner sponsor for social mobility, UK & Ireland cited a commitment to provide every opportunity possible for young people from all backgrounds, especially those who ordinarily would have been excluded from the recruitment process. "It is a commercial imperative for our business to recruit and retain talented individuals from all walks of life, in order to draw on the broadest spectrum of views and perspectives,” she said.

Top 11-20 top employers for social mobility in the UK

Findings of Index

Further to the top performers in social mobility, the Index also accompanied analysis into social mobility across the nation’s top employers, and while city firms were shown to be broadly improving their social mobility practices, there remains a substantial gap between prospective employees from different backgrounds. Almost one in five employers surveyed said they set targets to hire and promote more candidates from poorer backgrounds to try to diversify their workforce, while four in every ten took the time to question applicants on the type of school they attended, during the recruitment process. 25% asked whether candidates had ever received free school meals, and 39% asked if employees were the first in the family to go to university.

However, while roughly three quarters of the respondents stated they offer apprenticeships, most of these programmes are at the lower end of the qualifications scale (levels 2 and 4), doing little to push former apprentices from poorer backgrounds further up the corporate ladder. Researchers also found that, while 96% of firms stated theoretically they would accept graduates from any university, 61% of all successful applicants to those companies attended one of the country’s 24 most selective institutions, including Oxford and Cambridge.

The top 11 UK universities meanwhile have the lowest intake of state school students in the country, and the fact that employers visited them more than all the other UK universities combined mean those from poorer backgrounds are placed at a firm disadvantage when it comes to networking with top employers. This neglect for mobility targets was further compounded by the face of the companies surveyed, respondents said they visited the elite Oxbridge institutions more than all 118 other higher education institutions combined.

David Johnston, chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, praised the top firms in the Index, applauding their progress as an example to others in ensuring that new employees from all walks of life receive equal opportunities in the world of work.

Johnston stated, “While no one firm has cracked the issue and there is still progress to be made, they should be congratulated both for having prioritised social mobility and for being prepared to have their processes and practices independently scrutinised.”