There is still work to be done to ensure equity in the progression of social mobility for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
This is the finding of a new report on progression to senior levels in the UK’s financial and professional services, published by the City of London’s Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce, which includes the Law Society of England and Wales.
The survey is the first report to draw urgent attention to the need for professional services, including the legal sector, to improve their socio-economic diversity and ensure they reflect society more inclusively.
Unsurprisingly, the report found that 64% of the leaders surveyed came from a family with a professional background. This is almost double the proportion (37%) of the UK population.
The report also found that employees from a professional family background are 43% more likely to hold a management position than their working-class colleagues.
Regarding education, 26% of senior employees attended fee-paying schools, three times the national average of 7.5%, while 20% of junior and 16% of mid-level respondents attended fee-paying schools.
For the working-class employees, 37% of respondents felt that their background held them back in their work, compared to 18% of employees from a professional background.
Working class employees also feel less able to be themselves at work, with respondents more likely to feel alienated, more likely to think their background has a negative impact on their career and more likely to feel they do not have the same opportunities to succeed in the workplace.
Even more surprisingly, the report found that only 1% of respondents in senior positions were women from ethnic minority and working-class backgrounds.
When it comes to the legal sector, statistics from the Solicitors Regulation Authority show that 58% of lawyers working in law firms have a professional background (compared to 37% nationally), and 23% of lawyers attended a fee-paying school.
Law Society President I. Stephanie Boyce said: ‘The report confirms what many already suspected, that diversity and socio-economic inclusion in financial and professional services is still seriously lacking. This threatens the UK’s competitiveness and productivity. Everyone should have the opportunity to flourish.”
She continued: “As a child raised in a single-parent household on a council estate, I can understand why people from similar backgrounds can feel excluded in the workplace. Not having relationships with others may have made it harder for me to enter and progress in the legal sector.
“The sector risks amplifying existing inequalities if we don’t look at diversity and inclusion holistically.”
To change this, leaders must act now to ensure socio-economic diversity at all levels. Doing nothing is not an option.
Boyce added: “That’s why the Law Society is launching its Social Mobility Web Hub, which will help our members take action on social mobility. The Hub will include useful information and resources and will also feature a range of practical and specialist resources to help organisations monitor and promote socio-economic diversity.”
In this article, you learned that:
- 64% of the leaders surveyed came from a family with a professional background
- 26% of senior employees attended fee-paying schools, three times the national average of 7.5%
- Only 1% of respondents in senior positions were women from ethnic minority and working-class backgrounds
- 58% of lawyers working in law firms have a professional background