Professional services firms rank highly in social mobility list

18 October 2019 8 min. read
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Eight professional services firms have been named among the list of the UK’s best employers in terms of social mobility. According to the ranking from the Social Mobility Foundation, the list is topped by Big Four firm PwC, followed by rival KPMG.

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. Despite this major potential, however, change among the UK’s top businesses has been slow. While an increasing number of employers set mobility targets, research by the Social Mobility Foundation in 2017 found that 61% of all successful applicants to companies polled attended one of the country’s 24 most selective universities.

In order to celebrate the performance of firms able to buck this trend, as well as share their best practices with other employers, the Social Mobility Foundation founded its annual Top 75 ranking of UK employers. The list of British organisations commends a diverse range of entities for their efforts on the matter – but arguably more importantly this year, it also reflects the growing number of groups now taking social mobility seriously.

Professional services firms rank highly in social mobility list

David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said, “We are delighted to see more and more employers every year taking part in our Social Mobility Employer Index. The quality of submissions this year meant we have increased the size of our Top list from 50 to 75 and it shows the very wide range of organisations trying to make progress on social mobility.”

Almost a quarter of employers on the 2019 ranking are newcomers – including engineering firms, law firms, government departments, retailers, and even MI6 – and the majority of employers for some 1.1 million people now ask new staff questions on social class during the on-boarding process. However, while the 18 different sectors taking part in this year’s index display improving diversity, the list is still led predominantly by professional services firms.

The professional services sector is well aware that it faces a mounting war for talent, with high employment and demographic changes leaving fewer people to fill vacancies than in decades previous. As a result, the consulting and auditing world has long been a front-runner when it comes to broadening the social diversity of its intake, as a means to combat this. Eight advisory and auditing firms made the grade in 2019.

Top 10

Topping the overall list, PwC has 24 offices across the UK, generating consulting revenues of almost £4 billion in Britain. The UK wing of the advisory and accounting giant holds 22,305 employees in Britain, the Channel Islands and Middle East, along with 915 UK Partners. Measures taken by PwC to boost social mobility include increasing the variety of routes for people of all backgrounds into the firm, and engaging with a wide range of schools and universities across the country.

Laura Hinton, PwC UK’s Chief People Officer, said, “We’re proud of the steps we’ve taken, such as updating our recruitment processes to make them as inclusive and accessible as possible, and opening a new Assurance Centre in Bradford to provide employment for local people and skills training with schools in the area.”

Following close behind, last year’s top firm KPMG boasts 19 UK locales, which host 13,000 employees and command a total revenue of more than £2.1 billion. Speaking on the achievement last year, Deputy Chair Melanie Richards commented that while being recognised as a leading employer in the Social Mobility Employer Index was an immense source of pride, “over the coming months we will be redoubling our efforts to take this work forward to create a fairer firm,” a drive which seems to have kept the firm at the peak of the rankings this year.

Recording a UK revenue of £3.5 billion in 2018, while 5,000 new people joined the firm, fellow Big Four firm Deloitte also made the grade, winning praise for the actions it has taken towards improving social mobility in the workplace. Specifically this included increasing the number of opportunities for work experience placements. Deloitte’s intake of apprentices has grown substantially over the past few years; from 113 in 2016, to nearly 280 in 2019 and now represents 19% of student intake.

Dimple Agarwal, Managing Partner for People & Purpose at Deloitte, said, “I’m delighted that we have maintained a high position in the Social Mobility Employer Index. At Deloitte we believe a person’s background shouldn’t dictate their future and we have ensured that this is reflected in our approach to recruitment and development. Deloitte has taken steps such as contextualisation and academic institution-blind recruitment which are showing results in our student intake.”

Also ranking in the top 10 firms, Grant Thornton is the sixth largest professional services firm in the UK, and reported revenues of £491 million in 2018, with 25 offices across Britain. Over the last few years, Grant Thornton has proactively pursued a market leading approach to social mobility, including being the first firm to drop academic entry requirements at graduate and school leaver level. The firm also redesigned its trainee application form to remove any weightings around extra-curricular activities and work experience and redefined its target schools and universities.

Jenn Barnett, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Grant Thornton, commented, “We have championed the social mobility agenda for many years and we’re proud to have inspired other firms to engage with this important issue. Measures that felt quite pioneering when we first started our journey in 2013, such as being the first professional services firm to remove academic barriers to entry, have now become much more mainstream. It’s exciting to see these initiatives being replicated and the amount of progress now being made by so many other organisations.

Top 75

Also returning from last year’s list, mid-tier professional services firm Mazars is ranked as the eighth largest UK accountant in terms of audit fee income. Following its entry to the list in 2018, Ian Wrightson, Partner and Head of People & Culture at the company, remarked that Mazars was “already looking at the ways we can make further progress,” adding that the ranking showed the firm is “on the right track to creating an inclusive and welcoming business for our staff, as well as clear recognition of the work that we have been doing to enhance social mobility at Mazars.”

As the highest ranked IT and telecommunications operator on the list, Capgemini has launched a number of innovative new measures to promote social mobility within its UK wing. Its volunteer-led Coding Academy with Code Your Future ultimately trained and supported 25 refugees, with several of the course participants now working at Capgemini. Targeting its schools outreach work on social mobility “cold spots”, Capgemini also works closely with organisations including The Prince’s Trust, Urban Synergy, Apps for Good and more to support young people from a wide range of backgrounds.

“We are delighted to feature in the Social Mobility Employer Index for the second year running – and to have improved our position – recognising our on-going commitment to removing barriers and providing opportunities for all,” commented Paul Margetts, Managing Director of the UK Business Unit and Chair of the UK CR&S Board. “This is fantastic recognition and shows the continued progress we are making toward greater inclusion through our Active Inclusion programme.”

Global consulting firm Accenture also made the cut for the Social Mobility Employer Index. The Dublin-listed firm works with many FTSE 100 Companies and Government departments, with over 15,000 employees spread across four UK hubs. Accenture is led in the UK and Ireland by Chair and Managing Director Oliver Benzecry.

Arup, which is the highest ranked engineering specialist, is the final entrant from the professional services sector to the ranking. In the past, Arup has worked with the Social Mobility Foundation to host engagement days for 16-17 year-olds interested in Engineering and Physics.