Top UK employers for social mobility revealed

Willy Barton /

The Top 75 UK employers for social mobility in 2020 have been revealed, with PwC retaining the top spot.

The Social Mobility Employer Index, published by the Social Mobility Foundation, ranks organisations on the actions they are taking to improve access and career progression for people across all social class backgrounds and celebrates those doing the most to change the way they source, recruit and progress talent.

Some 119 organisations, employing more than 1.1 million people across 18 different sectors, took part in this year’s index.

The top 75 is dominated by law (36%) public sector (25%) and financial services (13%) firms.

Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Foundation, said: “It is welcome that more and more UK businesses are stepping up to the social mobility plate. Their efforts are changing lives for tens of thousands of our country’s young people.

“But more must be done. As the Covid-19 crisis continues and the UK descends into a sharp recession, avoiding a jobs catastrophe for young people must become a priority for all large employers.

“Already 60% of the jobs that have been lost since the pandemic began have been among 18-24-year olds, while older people have been the principal health victims of Covid-19. It is incumbent on government and business to ensure that young people are not its social and economic victims.

“Those businesses who have benefitted most financially from Covid-19 have the biggest duty to give back. The tech giants in particular need to take urgent action to put social mobility on their agendas.”

The Social Mobility Foundation’s research found there is still work to be done by employers to create a truly diverse and inclusive workforce.

Only 36% of businesses are setting social mobility targets, despite 85% feeling their clients care about the social class mix of their workforce, while only 29% publish socio-economic background data on their workforce and just 11% track their class pay gap.

Their work could be enhanced by diversity awareness training with a focus on social mobility, it said. Only 34% of organisations currently offer this, which is unchanged from 2019.

The legal sector, from which the Foundation has received significant submissions for the Index over the past four years, needs to do more to recruit outside of Russell Group universities, it said. Some 84% of legal firms’ graduate intake was from a Russell Group university.

Social mobility measures taken by PwC, which retained the top position this year, included increasing the variety of routes for people of all backgrounds into the firm; engaging with a wide range of schools and universities across the country; and providing both employment and schools outreach in Bradford – an area that has been identified as a social mobility ‘opportunity area’ by the government.

Improving social mobility has never been more important or more challenging. The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged people, regions and groups, and there’s a risk that progress isn’t just slowed but reversed” – Kevin Ellis, PwC UK

Kevin Ellis, chairman and senior partner at PwC UK, said: “It’s an honour to be named social mobility employer of the year, and a responsibility.

“Improving social mobility has never been more important or more challenging. The pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged people, regions and groups, and there’s a risk that progress isn’t just slowed but reversed. Many employers are doing fantastic work in this space and together we need to redouble our efforts to open up opportunities to more people.”

PwC UK’s chief people officer Laura Hinton, said the firm had adopted a five-point plan to improve social mobility and create a diverse workforce reflective of the communities in which it operated.

“Social mobility has also been core to our pandemic response, such as providing virtual skills support to communities and making sure all our employees can access a safe space to work,” she added.

The Foundation said it was positive to see organisations investing heavily in employee development: 48% offered buddies and mentoring, up from 30% in 2019.

The top 10 employers for social mobility are:

  1. PwC
  2. Grant Thornton
  3. KPMG UK
  4. Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner
  5. Browne Jacobson
  6. Ministry of Justice
  7. Herbert Smith Freehills
  8. Severn Trent
  9. JLL
  10. Baker McKenzie

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