Getting in and getting ahead: does social background affect career progression?

Software developers
By Chris Flanagan, PhD student in Accounting within the Adam Smith Business School at the University of Glasgow

7 June 2017

When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”  

So said Theresa May after becoming Prime Minister.

Jeremy Corbyn’s election manifesto slogan is “for the many, not the few”.  ICAS President, Sir Brian Souter, has also emphasised his commitment to “[dropping] hundreds of ladders to the socially excluded to support a new generation of CAs” through the ICAS Foundation.

Improving social mobility is high on the political and professional agenda, with broad agreement about the need to promote equal opportunities for those from different social backgrounds.

Entry into the professions is a key driver of social mobility. Within the accountancy profession, we know that professionals are more likely to be privately educated and have attended an elite university.

Just 17% of accountants come from a working-class background and these accountants could earn up to 20% less than those from a professional background.

Widening access, fostering inclusivity

Accountancy firms are recognising the benefits of an inclusive workforce. Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and Grant Thornton are Social Mobility Business Compact champions, committed to improving social mobility as a strategic goal.

KPMG has recently become the first business in the UK to publish data on the socioeconomic profile of its employees. At EY, removing requirements for UCAS points and a 2.1 degree has allowed previously-ineligible applicants to secure employment on graduate and school leavers schemes.

These steps recognise that improving social mobility is important for the future sustainability of the profession.

From getting in to getting ahead: A University of Glasgow research study

While widening access to the profession is important, a full understanding of social mobility must also consider equality of opportunity to progress within the profession.  

Despite increasing interest in social mobility, very little is known about individual accountants’ experiences of social mobility and how these have influenced career choices and career success.

This will be the subject of a research project by Chris Flanagan, a PhD student at the University of Glasgow. The study aims to capture a wide range of views on social mobility. If you would like to have your say on this important issue, if you would be willing to be interviewed, or would like more information, please get in touch with Chris Flanagan.


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