What medium sized accountants can learn from the Big Four

Social mobility has become more important than ever in recent years and employers are in a strong position to influence the communities they serve.

So what can smaller firms learn from the Big Four? Here we speak to Hollie Crompton, Social Mobility Operations Leader at PWC and Sally Bucknell, Director of Diversity and Inclusion at Ernst & Young to get their thoughts.

Why is social mobility important?

“The issues related to social mobility are complex and, as employers and influencers on the communities we serve, businesses have the power – and the responsibility – to effect positive change. We have a major role to play in advancing social mobility and in being part of the complex and varied solutions to this important problem” says Crompton.

“Social mobility is a major issue for our country and our economy,” says Hollie Crompton, social mobility operations leader at PwC. “Someone’s future should be determined by their talent and determination”.

How do your social mobility initiatives reflect your organisational culture?

PwC has always had an active focus on social mobility, according to Crompton. “We ensure that our recruitment processes for school leavers, graduates and experienced hires promote social mobility and enable access for all, and we’re a Top 10 social mobility employer in the 2018 Social Mobility Employer Index,” says Crompton.

Sally Bucknell, director of diversity and inclusion, UK and Ireland, at Ernst & Young (EY), says: “The experience of working with a global firm like EY can last a lifetime and we want to help extend that opportunity to as many people as possible”.

Bucknell says EY has widened access to the profession and created a more level playing field in a number of ways, such as removing the academic entry threshold (previously 300 UCAS points and 2.1 degree) as an application filter to their student recruitment process.

“Also, the EY Foundation, an independent charity set up by the firm, supported more than 1,000 young people in 2018, to help develop their core skills, access paid work experience and help provide a positive start to their working lives,” she notes.

What steps can SMEs and smaller firms take to ensure they improve social mobility within their organisation?

“Understand where you are currently in terms of recruitment and the socioeconomic make up of your workforce and learn from your work in other areas of diversity,” says Crompton. “Set a clear strategy, objectives and targets and ensure you have buy-in at a senior level. This will help to concentrate minds on progress and accountability.”

Bucknell says EY recently signed the Social Mobility Pledge, a cross party campaign to improve social mobility in the UK. “We agreed to three commitments focused on partnership, access and recruitment. SMEs and smaller firms could also follow the same commitments to help improve social mobility,” she notes.

How can employers work with their local communities to ensure they reflect them?

Partnering with local schools to provide coaching through careers advice, experience and mentoring for people from disadvantaged backgrounds should be your first step, advises Bucknell.

Crompton says PwC is also active in their local communities. “We’re raising skills and aspirations that will help people to be more aware of the world of work and more successful within it, whether at PwC or elsewhere. We’re a people business and we want the best people to work for us, wherever they come from.

What can smaller accountancy firms learn from the so-called Big Four?

“We’ve made great strides to broaden access to PwC and our profession, but we want to lead by example as a social mobility employer,” says Crompton. We’ve also found that setting a clear strategy and five point social mobility action plan has helped us focus on the most impactful changes we want to make.”

Promoting social mobility is, quite simply, the right thing to do, says Crompton. We do this through four key pillars:

  1. Community Outreach – upskilling and supporting the social mobility of disadvantaged communities
  2. Recruitment – hiring more people from disadvantaged backgrounds
  3. Development and progression – supporting those we recruit to develop and progress while they’re at PwC
  4. Advocacy – leading and being vocal on the importance of increased social mobility across the UK

In Summary

Social mobility is about more than diversity and inclusion. It’s about working with the local community to support people from disadvantaged backgrounds, upskilling and broadening your company’s mindset and outlook.

For more on social mobility:

Georgina Fuller is an award winning freelance journalist and editor.

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