Consulting firms are leading the drive for social mobility in the workplace

16 July 2018 6 min. read

With pressures mounting on consumers in the UK, plans to improve social mobility are central to the economic survival of post-Brexit uncertainty. A ranking celebrating the firms which are providing best practices to enhance social mobility has credited a number of consulting firms as being leaders in the field, with five ranking in the top 10 companies in the UK.

Poor levels of social mobility have been one of a litany of factors hindering the UK’s productivity in recent times, with the country comparing relatively badly to its Western European neighbours. As people who have spent their lives in lower income roles, like their parents before them, see their pay stagnate while being refused better paid opportunities which would enhance their consumer power, firms are also missing out by not capitalising on a wider variety of talent. According to one major study, should British businesses attain even average levels of social mobility, the economy would be boosted by around £170 billion in total, or £2,620 per person each year.

In order to promote social mobility and the best practices of firms best tapping into it, last year the UK’s Social Mobility Foundation launched the Social Mobility Index, run in partnership with the City of London Corporation, and found that increasing number of employers were in fact setting mobility targets to improve the situation. However the research also showed that a hugely disproportionate 61% of all successful applicants to companies polled attended one of the country’s 24 most selective universities, suggesting that much work was still to be done.

Consulting firms are leading the drive for social mobility in the workplace

In the follow up to its maiden outing, the Social Mobility Index has returned in 2018 with a new survey of more than 100 employers from 18 sectors, with a collective staff of more than one million. According to those polled, some progress has been made since last year, although it has been sparing to say the least. Firms are under increasing pressure to acknowledge societal disparity from clients, with 74% of those who responded to a question on the matter saying customers cared about their socio-economic make-up, along with 77% saying the same of race and 86% of gender.

In order to accommodate these concerns, firms seem to be diversifying the places they attempt to recruit the next generation of talent from. In terms of visiting Universities to tap up future graduates for roles at companies, overall the percentage of visits made to Russell Group universities by this year’s Index entrants was 56%, compared to 70% last year. The highest echelons of the UK’s elite educational institutions, Oxford and Cambridge, were still visited more than 75 universities combined, but this fell from over 110 universities combined in the 2017 Index.

According to the researchers, it is also a sign of progress that the majority of employers now ask staff about their background. Many organisations probed by the study admitted to asking their new employees whether or not their parents went to university (53%) or the type of school they attended (51%), while four in every 10 also ask their current employees these questions. On top of this, nearly 30% ask whether or not new staff were eligible for free school meals, while 12% ask the occupations of their parents and the postcode they grew up in. While these questions could be problematic if used during the recruitment process, as it might present an opportunity to feed into the potential prejudices of recruiters regarding prospective staff from less privileged origins, in the workplace itself it is seen as a chance to better support workers to move through a company despite their background.

Once more, the professional services industry is found to be leaving the Social Mobility Employer Index 2018 rankings. Five of the top 10 employers for social mobility are active in the consulting industry. KPMG UK takes top spot this year, followed by last year’s front runner, Grant Thornton. Both firms are among five consultancies named as ‘social mobility champions’ by the UK Government in honour of their efforts to overhaul socio-economic boundaries.KPMG, Grant Thornton, Deloitte, PwC, EY, Mazars

The firms were joined by the Ministry of Justice and law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, before the remaining member of the Big Four ranked fifth, sixth and seventh. Deloitte, PwC and EY respectively were marked out for their efforts to recruit and support their people, and will enhance the service they provide to clients in the process. The remaining top 10 was rounded off by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, the Civil Service Fast Stream and Early Talent wing, and law firm Baker McKenzie. In terms of the top 20, Mazars further added to the consulting industry presence, ranking 16th, following its addition of 195 trainees late in 2017, which the firm geared toward improving its social mobility.

Commenting on the 2018 results, David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said, “We have been very impressed by the efforts employers are making to ensure their organisation is open to talent from all backgrounds. We can really see organisations taking a whole host of actions to try and ensure that they have a diverse workforce in terms of socio-economic background as well as in terms of gender and race; they in turn are benefitting from accessing a much wider talent pool than they have traditionally recruited from. All entrants should be praised for broadening their approach.”

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, Chairman of Social Mobility Foundation, added, "I'm delighted that so many organisations chose to participate in the Social Mobility Index this year… This year's Index shows that there is a growing appetite for employers to play their part – I warmly congratulate all those who did so, and I hope they will be joined by more employers in next year's Index."