Two-and-a-half million young people are put off from applying to jobs – including in the accounting sector – if they perceive the workforce to be predominantly middle and upper-class, according to research by graduate recruiter platform, Debut. The research also found that workplace discrimination and a lack of social mobility costs the UK economy £270bn a year.
In addition, 61% of respondents felt businesses were not doing enough to hire people from diverse backgrounds.
“The majority of UK businesses are guilty of ‘professional exclusion’ and as such are missing out on a huge pool of tremendously talented young people from diverse backgrounds,” said James Bennet, CEO of Debut.
“This is not only stunting business’ own growth but also severely affecting the wider economy. It is imperative that businesses must do more than just pay lip service to diversity and inclusion and start taking real action to ensure they are in-step with modern social trends and viewpoints,” he added.
James Turner, CEO of the Sutton Trust, a foundation dedicated to social mobility, said in the report: “disadvantaged young people are still struggling to get ahead and face worse outcomes than their more advantaged peers. The UK is a particularly class-based society, which hasn’t changed significantly over time.”
Implications for accounting
The report has worrying implications for the accounting industry, suggesting accounting firms could be losing out due to a lack of diversity. Last September, the Top 50+50 report found that women accounted for just 18% of partners at top UK firms in accounting, and also revealed a £12,985 gender pay gap in the industry.
The 50+50 report also found that 54% of firms had no Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) partners and 27% had no BAME qualified accountants whatsoever.
In the context of Debut’s research, the lack of diversity in accountancy could be having a huge impact on the industry, stifling opportunities to attract the best young talent.
Andri Stephanou, student employer brand and attraction senior manager from EY, felt that visibility was key for new employees. “It’s really important for people to be able to see different role models in practice, it supports ambition and positive aspirations, for instance thinking ‘I can do this too, I can achieve success’,” he said.
Similarly, Meta Versluys, assistant HR Manager at BKL argued that “a diverse and inclusive culture is more enjoyable, and happy people do better work and provide better client service; which in turn creates happier and more satisfied customers.”
Millennials’ trust in business declining
Meanwhile, Deloitte’s millennial survey 2019 revealed that UK millennials’ opinions of businesses continues to diminish, with 48% of respondents saying that businesses have a positive impact on society, down from 58% in 2018.
“Millennials’ and Gen Z’s trust in business has decreased, in part, because they believe that businesses focus solely on their own agendas rather than considering the consequences for society,” said Dimple Agarwal, global leader for organisation transformation and talent at Deloitte.
“It is critical that businesses work harder to retain this talent by understanding their needs. Businesses should bolster their diversity and inclusion initiatives and create a culture that fuels millennials’ and Gen Zs’ creativity, providing them with fulfilling experiences. Priority should be placed on reskilling and training to keep this generation engaged,” Agarwal added.
Debut CEO, Bennet, warned that if firms refused to create a more diverse workplace, they would soon feel the cost in a loss of talent. “Today’s graduates don’t just demand equality – they expect it. And as graduates become increasingly more aware – and more vocal – about such issues, the talent pool will dry up for companies that aren’t putting enough of an emphasis on this,” he said.