Mary Walker Quoted in HR Grapevine on the Issue of Social Background on Career Progression

Wednesday 1st February 2023

Mary Walker, partner at Gordons and expert in employment law has been quoted in leading HR industry publication, HR Grapevine, on the impact of social background on career progression.

The comments come as one of the big four global accounting firms, KPMG published an internal study finding that social class is the biggest barrier to career progression after analysing the career paths of more than 16,500 partners and employees.

The data showed that socio-economic background, measured by parental occupation, had the strongest effect on how quickly an individual progressed through the firm. Individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds took on average 19 per cent longer to progress to the next grade, when compared to those from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

Mary commented: “Gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and age are all protected characteristics, making it unlawful to discriminate on those grounds. However, there is no such protection against coming from a deprived socio-economic background.

“It’s unlikely that the government will legislate to give similar protection to socio-economic circumstances in the near or distant future. This means the onus is currently on employers to bridge that gap.”

The article cited that the rise in apprenticeships has helped somewhat to level the disparity between career options. But more needs to be done so people from low socio-economic backgrounds aren’t locked in career options from which they can’t progress.

Mary continued: “At entry level, the growing popularity of apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships gives a chance to those who cannot access or afford university. Yet beyond this, the research identifies career bottlenecks, with colleagues from lower socio-economic backgrounds often finding it harder to progress to middle-management positions.”

“This means that good management, thorough appraisal systems and proactive training should be in place to overcome the barriers of an employee’s background through entry-level and beyond.”

You can read Mary’s comments in HR Grapevine here (subscription required).