Social mobility in the workplace: how accountants are driving change

Recent research suggests that accountancy firms make up an astonishing 50% of the top 10 employers in the UK for social mobility.

As a profession, training for accountancy is a powerful way for people to move up the social mobility ladder and make life better for themselves and their families.

So what can companies do to improve social mobility, and how can individuals make a difference?

Opening doors in social mobility

As well as being a Licensed Accountant and Tax Adviser at London-based Q Accountants, Farid Gasanov, MAAT, dedicates his time to being a Trustee at Open Sesame. The charity works hard to promote adoption around the world and create awareness of issues that arise when adopting from orphanages.

“In the UK, the legislation is clear and there is plenty of information online, written in clear language, about adopting orphans. But this is often not the case elsewhere in the world and particularly not in other languages.”

Gasanov’s idea “was to find people who could address this. Amongst other outcomes, we are currently creating a database in English that discusses registering for child adoption in other countries.”

Accounting support for charities

One of the key things Q Accountants does is work closely with individual charities, reviewing their accounting procedures, and seeing how they can help.

“We often find their practices to be fairly old school – often not even using Excel, and still working on paper. We’re cloud-based, so we implement Xero for them, integrate their bank accounts and generally tidy everything up.”

Q Accountants “ensures it’s sustainable so they can carry on by themselves in future. We select one charity a year, give a year of free accounting support and guide them to do ongoing bookkeeping.”

The first charity Gasanov worked with was called Creative Sparkworks. “They do wonderful work helping disadvantaged groups of young people train in film, TV and design. We were able to automate many bookkeeping procedures that would enable their volunteers to spend their time and resources on other things.”

Wider initiatives

What does Gasanov think companies could do more of in general to support and foster social mobility?

“Many of the larger firms do have corporate social responsibility programmes. But my experience is that with SMEs, there’s a gap – they don’t have huge budgets, and some often think they can’t do anything to help.” In fact, even the small things professional services companies do can make a huge amount of difference.

“Whatever service you provide, choose one or two charities and do something for them for free. It’s possible, it does something good for society and the benefits are very significant, compared with what it costs you.”

AI and changing job environments

Looking ahead the next 10-20 years, there’s an important point to be made about this.

“There was the feeling when I grew up that if you didn’t study, there would always be manual work that you could do. But now, with AI ever-encroaching, if you don’t look towards education and training, it’s going to be even more problematic finding a job than it was in the past.”

Being tech-savvy

How does Gasanov see his charity work in the wider context of moving from a very different cultural and social background?

“I’m a big fan of the positive exchange of practices between governments,” he says, “and while the UK is very strong in some areas, it could learn a few things from elsewhere.”

Consider Estonia, Gasanov says. “Estonia’s Government spends under €100m for the country’s entire IT system including hardware, software and salaries.” And yet, “most public services are available online 24/7, parents can check their children’s school marks on the same day and citizens vote in local and general elections online.”

For this and other reasons, Estonia is often regarded as the most digitally advanced nation in the world. “But compare that with the UK. We spend so much on maintaining Government services and could take a leaf from Estonia’s book about how to do things to benefit citizens more whilst spending less. After all, the Baltic states are not that far away.”

Key takeaways

  • accountancy as a profession can be proud of its track record in promoting open inclusion in hiring practices – the ‘Big 4’ firms plus Grant Thornton make up five of the top ten contributors in the UK
  • small companies can make a difference: “Choose a charity, choose a service you can offer, and do some work for free,” Gasanov says
  • individuals can be proactive: as Gasanov has shown with his work with children and orphanages, you can make a big difference with your skills and knowledge.     

For more on social mobility:

Mark Blayney Stuart is Business Journalist of the Year, Wales Media Awards 2017 and Former Head of Research at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

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