Accountancy firms excluding working class applicants, watchdog finds

15 Jun 15

Top accountancy firms are “systematically” excluding working class applicants from their workforce, the government’s social mobility watchdog claimed today.

The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission today published research showing that 70% of job offers from elite accountancy, financial services and law firms in 2014 went to graduates who had been educated at selective or fee-paying schools. By comparison, just 4% of the population attended a selective school, while 7% was educated privately.

Less than 5% of graduate entrants to accountancy firms received free school meals, compared to 16% of the general population.

Commission chair Alan Milburn said: “This research shows that young people with working-class backgrounds are being systematically locked out of top jobs.

“Elite firms seem to require applicants to pass a ‘poshness’ test to gain entry. Inevitably that ends up excluding youngsters who have the right sort of grades and abilities but whose parents do not have the right sort of bank balances.”

It did note, however, that compared to law, the accountancy profession supported more flexible routes to qualification. CIPFA was singled out as one of the UK professional accountancy organisations that supports the Association of Accounting Technicians.

The report makes three recommendations for firms to address. These are: amended “attraction strategies” to encourage more applicants from a wider range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds; provide support such as coaching and advice sessions to this more diverse cohort to help them navigate the selection process; and revisit current definitions of talent to ensure disadvantage applicants are not ruled out because of their background rather than their aptitude or skills.

The commission said its report was a “wake up and smell the coffee moment” for the UK’s leading firms. Although some were making big commitments to diversity in recruitment, the rest needed to start to catch up.

“It is time to follow the lead of the best and adopt policies that make access to a top job genuinely meritocratic,” the commission said.

  • Vivienne Russell

    Vivienne Russell is managing editor of Public Finance magazine and publicfinance.co.uk

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