Landmark report finds progress needed on social mobility at all levels in professional services

The City of London Socio-Economic Diversity Taskforce, which the Law Society of England and Wales sits on, has today published a report into progression to senior levels in the UK financial and professional services, which shows these sectors still have work to do to ensure equity of progression for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

The survey is the first report of its kind to baseline socio-economic diversity at senior levels across UK financial and professional services. It is part of the taskforce’s wider work and complements an industry-wide consultation on how the UK government, regulators and sector bodies can incentivise employers to boost socio-economic diversity at senior levels in financial and professional services.

Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce said: “The report draws urgent attention to the need for professional services – including the legal sector – to improve their socio-economic diversity to ensure we reflect the society we serve.”

The report found that 64% of senior leaders surveyed were from a family with a professional background. This is almost double the proportion (37%) of the UK population.

Employees from a family with a professional background are 43% more likely to be at senior level than their working-class colleagues, according to today’s survey.

26% of senior employees attended fee-paying schools, which is three times the national average of 7.5%, while 20% of junior-level and 16% of mid-level respondents attended fee-paying schools.

37% of respondents from a working-class background felt their background had held them back at work, compared to 18% from a professional background.

Employees from working class backgrounds felt less able to be themselves at work, with respondents more likely to feel like an outsider, more likely to feel that their background negatively impacted their career and more likely to feel that they did not have the same chances of success in the workplace.

Just 1% of respondents in senior positions were ethnic minority women from working-class backgrounds.

In the legal sector, statistics from Solicitors Regulation Authority show that 58% of lawyers working in law firms are from a professional background (compared to 37% nationally) and 23% of lawyers attended a fee-paying school.*

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “The report confirms what many already suspected, that socio-economic diversity and inclusion in financial and professional services is still severely lacking.

“This threatens the competitiveness and productivity of the UK. Everyone should have the opportunity to thrive.

“Working class people – who were under-represented across organisations and at senior levels – reported feeling less included in the workplace.

“As a child brought up in a single-parent household on a council estate I can understand why people from similar backgrounds may feel left out in the workplace.

“Not having the connections others may have had made it more difficult for me to break into and progress in the legal sector.

“The industry risks amplifying existing inequalities if we do not look at diversity and inclusion holistically.

“We need to act now to ensure there is socio-economic diversity at all levels. Doing nothing is not an option.

“This is why the Law Society is launching our social mobility web hub, which will support our members to take action on social mobility.

“The hub will include helpful information and resources, and will also present a range of practical and expert resources to help organisations monitor and promote socio-economic diversity.”

Notes to editors

Read the Social Mobility Taskforce’s Baseline Survey Report

There were almost 9,500 responses from 49 organisations across the UK. The largest data collection to date on socio-economic background across the UK financial and professional services sector.

The Law Society hosted 10 roundtables. We spoke to 171 people and 113 organisations.

The taskforce is due to publish its recommendations later this year.

* Data collected in 2021. Read more about the diversity of the solicitors’ profession.

Find out more on our social mobility hub

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

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