· News

‘Elite’ firms excluding working class young people

“Elite” law and accountancy firms are continuing to employ young people from more privileged backgrounds, excluding working class applicants, according to a report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission.

The report, Non-Educational Barriers to the Elite Professions, says that top firms typically target the UK’s most selective universities in their recruitment strategies, and that the students at these universities are disproportionately likely to have been educated at selective or fee-paying schools.

According to data cited in the report, typically 40% to 50% of applicants to leading accountancy firms come from the highly selective Russell Group of universities. They received 60% to 70% of all job offers. Only around 19% of students at Russell Group universities come from less advantaged social backgrounds.

The report was based on interviews with staff from 13 elite accountancy, law and financial services firms.

It says that when looking for graduates, these elite firms define talent according to factors such as “drive, resilience, strong communication skills, and above all confidence and ‘polish’”. It links these factors to “middle class status and socialisation”.

The report found that firms tend to prefer Russell Group universities because they offer a high concentration of graduates who fit their definition of talent. Therefore, the business case for looking outside this select group is not pressing.

It calls for “a more intensive approach to social inclusion” focusing on raising aspirations and ensuring fair access, via initiatives such as lengthy work experience for socially disadvantaged young people, paid internships and training and mentoring.

The Commission’s chairman Alan Milburn said the report shows young people from 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,” he said. "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.”

Contextual recruiting

Graduate diversity recruitment company Rare recently launched a Contextual Recruitment System (CRS) to help professional services firms increase social mobility.

The tool embeds social mobility metrics into an organisation’s existing graduate recruitment process, enabling it to measure an applicant’s potential in the context of their background.

Firms already signed up include Baker & McKenzie, Hogan Lovells, Ashurst and Herbert Smith Freehills.