Top firms ‘systematically’ excluding working class applicants with ‘poshness’ test

WORKING CLASS people are being “systematically” excluded from the best jobs at the UK’s top accounting firms, the government’s social mobility watchdog has claimed.

Alan Milburn, chairman of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission accused firms of imposing a “poshness test” effectively excluding applicants with working class backgrounds.

Research carried out by the commission found that as much as 70% of job offers from the UK’s most elite accounting, legal and financial services firms were made to graduates who had been educated at a selective state or fee-paying school, compared to 4% and 7% of the population as a whole.

“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,” said Milburn.

“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.”

The study of 13 firms, which together are responsible for 45,000 of the best jobs in the country, found that recruitment criteria is defined by factors skewed towards a privileged background, such as ‘polish’, which can be mapped on to middle-class status and socialisation.

“Accents make a difference, things people talk about… we all do, don’t we? We make judgements,” said one accounting firm executive.

However, the report found that many firms have already made big commitments to recruit the best applicants, regardless of background. Last year, the accounting profession united to create a unified approach aimed at helping students from disadvantaged backgrounds obtain accountancy qualifications.

Firms and institutes signed up to the scheme, Access Accountancy, to produce a set of measures and targets to increase opportunities for young people from underprivileged backgrounds across the UK and jointly create 750 work placements a year for five years.

Milburn said firms that have made a commitment to recruit from underprivileged backgrounds “should be applauded”.

“But for the rest this is a wake up and smell the coffee moment. They are denying themselves talent, stymying young people’s social mobility and fuelling the social divide that bedevils Britain,” he said.

The report makes three key recommendations for firms to address; amend attraction strategies to encourage higher numbers of applications from students with a wider range of educational and socio-economic backgrounds; ensure these students have access to similar levels of support enjoyed by their more traditional peers; interrogate current definitions of talent, including how potential is identified and assessed.

For Colin’s pithy take on this story, click here.

Related reading