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KPMG aims to increase working class employees

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KPMG is aiming to close the socio-economic gap within the firm by recruiting 29% of its partners and directors from a working class background by 2030. But some within the profession are divided on whether this could become a tick-box exercise. 

10th Sep 2021
Editor AccountingWEB
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The Big Four firm is set to track the socio-economic make-up of its workforce as it becomes one of the first organisations to measure employee background pay gaps by looking at their parental occupation. 

The move comes months after the then chair of KPMG Bill Michael described the concept of unconscious bias as “complete and utter crap”.

Publication of the new data found KPMG’s senior and junior staff members to be the most socio-economically diverse cohorts, but working class representation in middle management emerged was comparatively lower and is contributing to pay gaps within the firm.  

As a result of the survey the accountancy giant has introduced a new recruitment programme aimed at removing any potential barriers facing those from a working class background. 

The Big Four firm has now set itself the target of having 29% of partners and directors coming from a working class background. 

The organisation arrived at this figure by benchmarking against relevant groups within Labour Force Survey data.

The organisation currently has 23% of its partners and 20% of directors in this group. Working class representation at board level is 22% while the executive committee is 14%. 

Over 10,000 people across the workforce shared their socio-economic background, which works out at 70% of all their people. 

Out of the 10,444 employees participating in the survey, 5,773 selected their parent occupation as professional, 1,419 as intermediate and 1,860 as working class. Meanwhile, 1,289 picked ‘I don’t know’ or ‘Prefer not to say’ and 103 chose their parental occupation as “never worked/long-term unemployed”.

‘More equitable society’

KPMG’s chair Bina Mehta said the focus on socio-economic background pay gaps “isn’t just about simply reporting more data”. 

“It’s about shining a light on what’s truly happening within organisations so that targeted action can be taken to help create a fairer and more equitable society,” she said. 

Mehta added that she’s “a passionate believer that diversity in all its aspects improves business performance”.

“Diversity brings fresh thinking and different perspectives to decision making, which in turn delivers better outcomes for our clients.”

KPMG’s social mobility push

KPMG plans on removing the barriers for all employees to advance their careers at the firm by launching new recruitment programmes to bring in talent from lower socio-economic backgrounds at middle management and senior levels. 

In addition, the firm will be providing mandatory training and launching a talent development programme aimed at employees from this background. 

For the purposes of calculating the pay gaps, KPMG defines ‘working class’ as employees whose parental occupation was ‘routine and manual’, while a ‘professional’ background is where a parental occupation was ‘higher managerial, administrative and professional’. The parental occupation will be used as a measurement within HR processes. 

Publishing socio-economic information continues KPMG’s efforts to be transparent around pay gap reporting, which this year has included Black heritage, sexual orientation, and disability pay gaps.

KPMG’s push towards social mobility comes after a couple of headline grabbing diversity faux pas. In February the then chair Bill Michael stepped down after accusations that he told staff to “stop moaning” about the pandemic and rejected the concept of unconscious bias. 

Mary O’Connor, who was the head of clients and markets, assumed Michael’s day-to-day responsibilities as acting senior partner. But two months later she resigned after being overlooked for the permanent CEO role, which went to head of audit Jon Holt. 

A tick-box exercise?

KPMG’s drive to increase working class numbers has divided some within the profession.

“Many of those from this background, right down to school leaver age, feel that a high level, professional occupation like this is unachievable. Anything to make them feel different is a good thing,” said Ben Steele, the founder of Steele Financial. 

However, as someone that encourages those from a working-class background to understand their options and opportunities within accountancy, Steele has questioned KPMG’s motives in rolling out this social mobility programme.   

“You must ask yourself, to what extent will it become a tick box exercise like we have seen with diversity targets in the past.

“They could be in danger of undermining the positions, and more so, undermining these people who have worked extremely hard to earn their place, yet be made to feel that they are part of the 29% working class target.

“Is this for publicity and image, or is this to truly help those from backgrounds like myself to aim higher and achieve more?”

‘We'll truly have the best talent’

Lucy Cohen, the co-founder of Mazuma, agreed that candidates could feel disheartened knowing they got the job because of being the target of a quota - “but only if that was the only reason”. 

“For generations, candidates from upper class, privileged backgrounds have walked into jobs because of their upper class privileged backgrounds. That in itself was them being a tick box - just in a way that was accepted by society,” said Cohen.

“I have challenged many non-marginalised people on the idea that maybe they only got a certain opportunity because they fitted a well-worn profile of what that sort of position looks like. They'll vehemently argue that they only got the job because they are good - even if it was a wealthy parent that opened that door for them.”

“So - a quota to help open doors for more diverse talent? I'm all for it. If it does its job it won't be forever. And then we'll truly have the best talent in the right places from across the board.”

What do you think? Is this the right move to ensure a more diverse senior workforce?

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