Scotland’s big financial services sector must do more to improve social mobility, according to a roundtable hosted by KPMG UK in partnership with Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) and Progress Together.
The event brought together leaders from across the sector to share personal experiences and discuss how business can do more to tackle career inequalities in Scottish finance for those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
According to SFE, the financial sector is the biggest sectoral contributor to Scotland’s economy, representing £13.6 billion or 9.2% of GVA.
Scotland’s financial and related professional services sector employs 160,000 people – around 9% of national employment — and there are almost $1 trillion of assets under management and administration in Scotland.
KPMG UK said that in 2021, it became the first business to set a socio-economic background representation target, aiming for 29% of its leaders to be from a lower socio-economic background by 2030.
It said that currently, 25% of the firm’s partners are from such backgrounds, up from 23% in 2021.
Last December KPMG published research it carried out alongside social mobility experts the Bridge Group that found that people’s class presented the single biggest barrier to career progression, with those from low socio-economic backgrounds taking on average 19% longer to progress to the next grade at KPMG.
Scottish Financial Enterprise CEO Sandy Begbie said: “In our skills and inclusion action plan for the sector, endorsed last year by Scottish Government, we outlined how we want to increase the diversity and accessibility of our sector, while also aiming to fill key skills gaps that currently exist.
“The plan is structured around three key pillars – skills, pathways and promotion. Earlier this year, we launched our A Future in Finance programme, which aims to attract a wider range of people from different backgrounds to our sector, by challenging myths and stereotypes around who works in our sector and the types of roles that exist.
“It is also clear that we have much work to do to ensure that once in the sector, people have equal opportunities to progress in their careers.
“We are hugely grateful to KPMG and Progress Together for their work to shine a light on current issues and working with us to develop structured approaches to drive up socio-economic diversity at senior levels in our industry.
“Alongside our other initiatives, and industry networks such as our Young Professionals network and our Gender Equality network, our ambition is for our sector to be the best of any in Scotland when it comes to enabling people from all backgrounds to thrive at work and achieve their full potential.”
Arleen Arnott, Edinburgh Office Senior Partner at KPMG UK, said: “We know someone’s background has an impact on life chances, but many find it uncomfortable to talk about class as a barrier, especially in the workplace.
“Achieving social equality is the defining challenge for the UK and business leaders have a huge role in doing that, so we can’t stay silent on the issue if we want to change things.
“As a firm we’ve been working to improve social mobility in our profession and our business for over a decade. Events like these are great ways to maintain focus on social inclusion, and importantly, provide an opportunity to learn from one another and turn that into action to ensure that identity or background are never a barrier to anyone’s career.”
The round table session was facilitated by independent membership body Progress Together, which was set up to drive socio-economic diversity at senior level across UK financial services.
Mona Vadher, Head of Strategy at Progress Together, said: “We’re working to create an industry in which employees progress their career based on job performance and potential, irrespective of where they started out in life.
“With Progress Together members now collecting data on socio-economic background, the UK financial services sector is making progress, however there is still a long way to go.
“This roundtable was an opportunity to keep the subject of socio-economic diversity at the forefront of leaders’ minds.
“Events like this encourage the people at the very top to lead by example, speak out about this issue and create a more socio-economically diverse workforce, which research shows reaps significant benefits for business.
“This is a UK-wide agenda. Financial services is a competitive environment, so through our membership we provide firms with the tools to improve diversity as a route to innovation.”