88% of AAT members believe your background shouldn’t affect your job prospects

There’s some excellent work already being done to promote fair education, training and recruitment in the accountancy sector. But there’s definitely more to be done…

This is just one of the key findings from a new AAT survey, where we asked 250 AAT members how they feel about social mobility, and what their workplaces are doing to help the cause.

When we first addressed this issue in July 2019, we saw how accountancy was one of the worst industries for social mobility from the 2009 Milburn report. People from affluent backgrounds are 80% more likely to get professional jobs, and those from more working-class backgrounds are earning £6,700 less on average.

But we also saw employers are working to address the issue, with 5 of the top 7 employers for social mobility being accountants.

Overall, the general theme of social mobility really resonated with everyone over the past 2 months, and our members had a lot to say. For example, 88% of members believe it’s important to recruit the candidate regardless of their education, background or gender. It’s just the right thing to do.

Negative bias in the workplace

In our survey, a total of 36% of those questioned reported having been negatively affected by bias in the workplace during their career.

Of those who had experienced bias, more than half (53%) said they were affected by gender bias, while 43% said their age had been the problem. Interestingly, sexual orientation only accounted for 1% of those who said they had experienced negative bias, and just 4% said they had experienced negative bias due to disability.

Ethnic background was a factor in 14% of those who reported bias, but others said that social class, nepotism, location and relation status had been discriminatory factors, accounting in total for 31% of reported negative bias.

Speaking up against bias

Gender bias, and ageism were the top two offenders amongst the AAT members sampled; have you noticed this in your workplace? Is it something you consciously work to correct, or is it something you’ve experienced?

There is still a lot that can be done in the workplace to make it a more equitable and welcoming place for all types of people. While one third (33%) reported that they had not witnessed negative bias towards other people in their workplace, unfortunately 53% said they had, while 14% were unsure.

Looking out for bias and speaking up is a great starting point for creating a fairer workplace for all.

Potential for improvement

Just over half (51%) said they felt that accountancy as a sector could do more to improve social mobility. There is great potential for individuals and organisations to do more, as just 22% of those surveyed said they were working to improve social mobility within accountancy.

However, there is already some excellent work being done to help promote social mobility. This includes:

Support for more equal recruitment policies

There was overwhelming support for ensuring that all candidates have an equal chance and that a company recruits the best candidate for the team, regardless of their background, gender or education.

In fact, 88% agreed that this should be the case, with 10% neutral and only 2% disagreeing.

The best candidate for the job?

When asked which factors should be prioritised when recruiting a candidate, 27% said relevant qualifications were important, 23% said work experience and 10% said versatility or flexibility.

While having new ideas or innovations was considered a low priority, at only 3%, having a positive attitude and a willingness to learn scored a combined 23% among those questioned.

There was a mixed response to the question of whether job applicants with a university degree were unfairly favoured over those with other qualifications. In response, 17% strongly agreed, 36% agreed somewhat, and 25% were neutral. This might simply reflect the make-up of our members though, many of whom bypassed university and built highly successful careers thanks to their AAT qualifications.

Nevertheless, over half of members surveyed (55%) agreed that all staff received the same access to training and development at their workplace, with a disapointing 28% saying this was not the case.

Key points

  • Social mobility is still an issue in the accountancy sector, and almost 9 out of 10 members surveyed believe there should be no discrimination when recruiting.
  • Having the right qualifications and work experience are still important, but perhaps equally important is a willingness to learn and a positive attitude.
  • Just over 55% of members surveyed agreed everyone has equal access to training and development within the workplace, so some employees are hitting a ceiling.

In summary

Social mobility is improving, and you can make a difference now.

In our survey, 35% of those questioned were not even aware of the term ‘social mobility’, so simply spreading awareness is critical at this time.

22% of people in accountancy reported taking action to improve social mobility, including offering apprenticeships, changing recruitment policies, or dropping academic entry requirements altogether like Grant Thornton. There are so many ways you can get involved, help raise awareness and contribute to a culture change at your organisation too.

You could start by advocating equal opportunities; implementing more inclusive recruitment policies; starting a mentoring and training programme; encouraging and promoting outreach, or starting a programme of education.

For more advice on how to take action, why not get in touch with us through our Facebook page; your fellow AAT members and students may have some great ideas!

Further reading on social mobility:

Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.

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