Socio-Economic Impact on Career Paths (Part 2)

This is part 2 of a short series exploring the impact socio-economic factors have on our career choice and what the accountancy, tax & treasury and legal sectors can do to increase working-class representation.

For those of you who’ve not yet read the first part of this series, click here to explore the impact class divisions continue to have in Britain and how these have manifested in the workplace. If you’re following on from part one, welcome back!

We closed the last blog asking, ‘what challenges do firms need to overcome to gain more working-class representation in their teams’?

 With the majority of respondents to our Diversity & Inclusion survey considering themselves middle class, part two will now go on to explore how our specialist sectors can tackle the issues posed by classism to increase working-class representation at all levels.

Education

The phrases ‘private education’ and ‘top universities’ came up over and over again in our free text box.

It is evident that firms, particularly those at the top, tend to favour applicants who have been educated at top universities. This excludes those who may have taken an alternative education route or those who did their schooling in less renowned institutions. Typically, those who attend the ‘top’ universities are of a higher socio-economic background.

‘Firms need to start employing those that haven’t necessarily come from the top universities or have a different route into law. There is only so much education can provide. Some firms are already doing this but it would be nice to see it more in practice.’(Associate, Law Firm)

So what can we do to tackle this?

Blind Selection

Some firms have opted to select applicants blindly, eliminating unconscious bias by hiding details including educational background and address. Although using blind CVs can be beneficial, some say this practice alone does not go far enough as it has the unintended consequence of interviewers fixating on what is called ‘proxies for quality‘ such as mannerisms and dialect.

Decrease the financial burden

Another education issue is the cost. This was particularly noteworthy within the legal sector which is a notoriously expensive sector to qualify in. Right now, the solicitor’s qualifying exam alone costs between £3,000 to £4,000 on top of usual degree costs. This typically excludes many of those without the means to pay up, which is reflected below,

‘According to SRA data, 21% of lawyers attended a fee-paying school compared to 7% of the general population, while a greater proportion of lawyers also have parents with a degree level qualification (51%)’.

Combating this has been on the agenda of many firms for years. The introduction of apprenticeships in the legal space has provided a practical route for those from lower socioeconomic groups to qualify. The beauty of apprenticeships is that they not only bypass those costly fees, but they also allow students to earn and learn on the job providing them with the experience grads don’t have.

Perception

On further investigation of the issues around education, it also became increasingly clear that perception of the accountancy, tax, treasury & legal sectors deters applicants from diverse backgrounds.

‘The City and the London Market is seen as an industry which is predominantly for white middle-class males. This leads to a lack of candidates from outside of this background. More should be done to increase the candidate pool.’ (Tax Director, In-House)

 If you scrolled through the input we’ve had from 700+ professionals, the words  ‘white’, ‘male’ and ‘middle class’ would jump out at you repeatedly. It’s clear from the suggestions alongside the below data that there remains an alarming lack of diversity among leadership teams.

Research conducted in 2019 by Personnel Today also discovered that over a third of 18-25-year-olds in the UK are put off joining workplaces they perceive as being made up of the middle and upper classes.

Although change has been taking place within our sectors to reshape their image, they remain to be perceived as elitist, particularly legal. The Law Society states that only a third of solicitors come from less privileged socio-economic backgrounds, unsurprisingly statistics from the Bar are even less.

The law may be less male and less white than it was previously, but it is still overwhelmingly middle class.

Visibility and access are issues which need to be addressed to change perceptions. By being available to those from diverse backgrounds, firms could generate more interest which could be vital in changing our sectors’ current male and stale image.

Magic circle law firm Linklaters has launched programmes aiming to do just this, increasing visibility amongst 16 – 18-year-olds, guiding them on careers in the legal field, mentoring them, providing them with valuable experience and advising them on education routes.

However, changing the perception of our specialist sectors will remain a mammoth task until the majority of firms start acting to diversify their teams.

But for those who overcome these challenges, barriers remain, namely pay.

Be sure to check out the final part of this series, discussing the class pay gap.

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