Madeleine Avery looks at the prospects for improving social mobility at the top.
Five years ago in 2012, Private Eye published the above piece about the Sutton Trust’s first Leading People report. It’s probably my favourite piece of Sutton Trust press coverage.
So in light of research published by the Trust earlier this month which details the educational backgrounds of newly elected MPs, I asked myself, could that headline could run again today?
The short answer is yes. Whilst the proportion of state-educated MPs is at a record high for the years for which we have data, privately educated MPs still account for 29% of parliament, despite only comprising 7% of the population.
Parliament is not unique in this regard and reflects a pattern repeated in many other professions. Nearly a third of FTSE 100 chief executives that were educated in the UK are privately schooled, as were over half of the top 100 news journalists and over two-thirds of British Oscar winners. Of all High Court and Appeals Court judges, nearly three-quarters attended private schools.
The business case for shifting this imbalance is clear, with more and more professional bodies recognising the social and business imperative for change. Time and again, organisations refer to the problem of ‘group-think’ and recognise the benefits of harnessing the broader experiences of a wide range of people, not just those who are drawn from a small social pool
McKinsey’s 2015 report, Diversity Matters, found that more diverse teams significantly outperform their competitors, attract the best talent and are able to respond to the challenges of business. A plethora of initiatives including Access Accountancy, PRIME, the Sutton Trust’s suite of Pathways to the Professions programmes, the Civil Service’s push for a more diverse workforce, and KPMG’s social mobility programme all reflect an appetite to do more to attract and retain talent from a wide range of backgrounds.
It does seem as though things are beginning to change. A report from the APPG on Social Mobility made practical recommendations about how the government, universities, schools and employers can lead the way on ensuring that anyone can aspire to join the leading professions. This week, the first ever Social Mobility Employers Index highlighted 50 firms that are leading the way to improve the diversity of their recruits.
But if we look at the Private Eye headline again in five years’ time, will it still ring true? Well, to use the example of access to parliament, at the current rate of change it will take almost sixty years (if an election occurs every five years) before the percentage of MPs who are privately educated matches that of today’s general population. But as more organisations work to implement recommendations and imbed ways of working that encourage talent from wider backgrounds, it looks like there will be some real traction in the next few years.
Encouragingly, the ambition and talent of the students we work with at the Sutton Trust mean that we expect to see more and more of our fantastic alumni accessing top roles in top professions. We will continue to work with our partners in the wider education sector, the professions, and government, to advocate for young people from all backgrounds to fulfil their potential in whichever profession they choose.