Social mobility has been a key issue within accountancy for some time. Many large firms, for example, have led the way among the traditional professions in introducing ‘contextual’ academic data and school and university-blind applications in recruitment processes. At present this energy has been almost entirely focused on access. However, our analysis of the Labour Force Survey (LFS), demonstrates that accountancy may have just as, if not more, pressing issues to address in terms of career progression. We find that accountants from working-class backgrounds earn significantly less than their privileged peers, even when they have the same educational qualifications, level of training and work the same hours. We also find that this class pay gap is particularly marked among accountants working in London.
Our case study aims to understand what is driving this class ceiling in accountancy. Specifically, we are looking at the inner workings of one of Britain’s largest accountancy firms. Our fieldwork is taking place in two stages.
First, in Spring 2017 we analysed internal staff data to see whether those from lower class backgrounds progress at the same rate as those from more privileged backgrounds, and whether this varies by office location, service area and gender. Second, we are conducting in-depth interviews with employees at different ends of the organization; 25 with partners and 25 with trainees. The aim of these interviews, conducted between March and July 2017, is to explore how notions of talent, as defined by those making decisions about career progression (partners), affect employee progression – and specifically the implications of this for trainees from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The results from this case study will be included in our book – The Class Ceiling – to be published in 2018.