One thing remains static: regardless of size, the adoption of policies to increase diversity is slow to be recognised and even slower to be implemented.
Government policies are adhered to and best practice has not fallen completely by the wayside. However, too often these critical business agendas run for a while, then get side-lined when more pressing business needs arise.
Prime example: Covid. It squeezed out many working women while enforced working from home caused issues for some employees and parents which many businesses are still struggling to address. Where, pray tell, did diversity factor into these decisions?
Anything related to diversity and recruitment has me pricking up my ears – like KPMG’s announcement of targets to attract and promote people from working class backgrounds. KPMG aims to have 29 per cent of its directors and partners from working class backgrounds by 2030.
Greater diversity isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes business sense. It’s also about attracting the best talent, since people want to work for progressive businesses with diverse workforces and flexible working practices. The leaders best equipped to meet tomorrow’s challenges are unlikely to be white, privately educated, middle-class, male and 50. You could argue this is discrimination with another hat on. But that’s another discussion.
Despite positive strides, we must do more to tackle racism and sexism, while it’s vital that we don’t lose sight of less highlighted causes such as class and background.
KPMG defines working class as those with parents in “routine or manual” jobs, such as drivers or cleaners, who are likely to earn 8.6 per cent less than colleagues from other socio-economic backgrounds.
Critics say that trying to pin down what qualifies as “working class” in 2021 is meaningless. But is it? Research by sociologists has shown that people’s social positions are often rooted in their family origins.
There is a suggested link that family status plays a significant role in children’s educational, occupational and earnings attainment. The UK is a highly unequal society with deepening income disparities and, thanks to Covid, heightened employment insecurity. If class differences can define levels of earnings and future career progression, then basically companies are putting polish before potential.
The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) has applauded KPMG for tackling these “invisible barriers”. I find this move exciting not just in terms of diversity, but in terms of smart business thinking.
Every year my firm produces a Salary Guide for Scotland’s financial services sector. I’m proud that it has become a barometer for pay scales that is closely monitored by job hunters and employers alike.
It also identifies the issues that are important to job seekers and the trends and patterns likely to impact on businesses.
For years we have been warning of twin threats to the financial services sector – slow adoption of diversity and a failure to embrace effective succession planning. These topics go hand in hand.
If KPMG delivers on its promise, it might well spare itself the worst potential ill-effects of both.
But what’s more important to me is that commitments like KPMG’s are just one piece of the diversity puzzle. Let’s hope for a brighter picture in the future.
Betsy Williamson is the Founder and Managing Director of recruitment company Core-Asset Consulting, a recruitment company which turns over £15 million-a-year and partners with Scotland top performing investment and professional services businesses