Firms tooled up for diversity drive

Can Toolkit for the professions break the ’who you know’ culture?

As a talking point, social mobility within the legal profession has really hit its stride. In 2011 Allen & Overy senior partner David Morley’s equal opportunities initiative Prime won buy-in from 23 competitor firms, while in January 10 firms signed up to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Business Compact on social mobility.

It is all well and good signing up to worthy initiatives, but translating that into real change is another matter. In a bid to give professional firms, bodies and regulators a way to measure how effective they are at attracting employees from across the social spectrum, Professions for Good (PFG) has produced a ’Social Mobility Toolkit’.

The Toolkit, which is aimed at traditional professions such as accountancy, law, surveying, engineering and medicine, gives an overview of the main barriers to entry to the professions, suggests best practices and supplies a template questionnaire to measure socioeconomic makeup, which PFG recommends being rolled out every three years.

The Toolkit was proposed by the Gateways to the Professions Collaborative Forum following Alan Milburn’s Unleashing Aspiration report to the Government in 2009, which found that the professions in the UK are a ’closed shop’ to those from poorer families – more so than in any other member country of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Toolkit quotes some disconcerting statistics. For example, tomorrow’s doctors and lawyers live in households richer than five-sixths of the population. Other professions are slightly less restrictive, but as professions make up one in three jobs in the UK, it is still a gross limitation.

The Toolkit’s best practice recommendations include mentoring poorer young people, eliminating the ’who you know’ culture of work experience and offering cheaper routes into the profession.

So far, so sensible. But with jobs scarce the temptation for those already in the professions to give their offspring a leg-up is great, and eroding the culture of helping your own is not going to be easy.