Accountancy firms were well represented, with Big Four members KPMG in second place, Deloitte in fifth and PwC in seventh. EY finished outside the top ten as the 16th best employer for social mobility.
The Index is a joint initiative between the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission, in partnership with the City of London Corporation. It ranks Britain’s employers on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to accessing and progressing talent from all backgrounds.
Nearly 100 employers from 17 sectors, who collectively employ just under one million people, submitted entries about their practices and procedures in areas including working with young people, recruitment and progression.
The top ten
1. Grant Thornton UK
2. KPMG UK
3. Skanska UK
4. Standard Life
5. Deloitte UK
6. JP Morgan
8. Berwin Leighton Paisner
9. WM Morrisons Supermarkets
10. Enterprise Rent-A-Car
The report found that city firms are broadly improving their social mobility practices, but there is still work to do. Almost one in five employers sets targets to hire and promote more candidates from poorer backgrounds to try to diversify their workforce.
The top 11 UK universities are visited by employers more than all the other UK universities combined and these 11 are all in the 20% of universities with the lowest percentage of state school students in the country.
Firms collectively scored the highest on their work with young people, providing outreach activities for over 663,000 of them, but they score lowest on helping those from lower-socio economic backgrounds to progress in the workplace.
Businesses are now increasingly asking both new and current employees about their social background, with four in 10 asking the type of school attended. A quarter ask if an employee received free school meals and two fifths ask if employees were the first in their family to go to university.
David Johnston, chief executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said, “All the top 50 firms in the Social Mobility Employer Index should be applauded for the progress they are making towards ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get in and get on – regardless of their background.
“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.”
ICAEW president Nick Parker praised the accountancy profession for stepping up on social mobility. “Initiatives such as Access Accountancy commit to real measurable outcomes.
"This is why the role of measurement is essential and the success of points-based recruitment systems is clear – these cohorts may not have been employed under old rules. Employers consistently tell us it is not just about academic achievements alone – businesses say they are looking for ‘well rounded’ people who can communicate, solve problems and demonstrate resilience.
“ICAEW urges all businesses to continue to tap into a deeper pool of talent to ensure young people have the opportunity to access the profession, regardless of background,” added Parker.
Grant Thornton has made a number of changes to its school leaver and graduate trainee selection process, including the removal of academic barriers to entry and removing the emphasis on relevant work experience and extra-curricular achievements. The firm also changed its aptitude test provider to one that could prove its process did not discriminate based on socioeconomic background.
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.”
The Big Four firm was the first UK business to publish comprehensive data on the socio-economic makeup of its workforce. Earlier this year it won a Queen’s Award for its work on promoting opportunity through social mobility.
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.
“And the Brexit vote, followed by the outcome of the general election earlier this month, have shone a light on some of the social divisions that we as a country face. So social mobility and the geography of disadvantage will rise up the political agenda.”
EY also removed its academic entry criteria for its student recruitment, which resulted in a 75% increase in applications. EY was also recognised for creating 200 apprenticeship vacancies – the EY Business Apprenticeship.
Mandy Love, EY’s partner sponsor for social mobility, UK & Ireland said, “We work hard to provide opportunities for young people from all backgrounds to access a professional career and to consider EY as a place where they can thrive.
"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.”
Deloitte was the largest firm to adopt contextualised recruitment and has 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 added: “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.”
In 2015 PwC scrapped the UCAS for its graduate scheme and created an a new fully-funded technology degree apprenticeship with the Universities of Birmingham and Leeds.
Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC, said, “This is an important issue and one where business needs to step up and take a lead.
"It's encouraging to be recognised for the progress we’ve made, but there is still more we can do. We want to get the message across that working at PwC is about how far you can go, rather than where you came from.”