Do well by doing good

Grant Thornton unlocking talent
When considering the type of skills needed to take the firm into the future, Grant Thornton made radical changes to help unlock talent and increase diversity of thought

The battle for talent is fierce – but Grant Thornton has created a firm where opportunity is open to all

Queen’s Award for Social Mobility

By Malcolm Gomersall

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Having a more diverse pool of talent leads to improved organisational performance, a better outcome for clients and a more productive economy. Increasing social mobility is a practical way for business to make a difference and do well by doing good, while increasing diversity in their workforce.

At Grant Thornton, social mobility is a core element within our broader inclusivity agenda and we are both proud and delighted that our progress and long-standing commitment to this issue has been recognised with a Queen’s Award for promoting opportunity through social mobility.

Our purpose is to shape a vibrant economy where business and people can flourish. Key to this is creating a firm where opportunity is open to all. We started our social mobility journey over five years ago with a vision for the firm to be more representative of all levels of society.

When we were considering the type of skills needed to take the firm into the future, we knew we needed to make some radical changes that would help us to unlock talent and increase diversity of thought.

The battle for talent is fierce and look-in at the senior leaders in our business we realised many of them would not have made it past the first hurdle of our old academic entry requirements and that our lack of flexibility was likely to be limiting our access to great talent. Therefore, in 2013 we dramatically rethought our approach to hiring at trainee level.

We were the first professional services firm to remove academic entry requirements as a barrier and around 20% of the students who joined us at trainee level in 2017 would have previously been unable to apply before these changes.

We introduced online platforms that provide support around applying for jobs and interview techniques – things we know students from lower socio-economic backgrounds don’t always receive at home or from their school or college. We also provide coaches and buddies at every step of the process to support students, provide feedback after every interview regardless of outcome, and we continually look for ways to widen the diversity of our trainees.

Our focus has always been on levelling the playing field and providing young people with opportunities that previously might not have been available to them. We moved away from assessing candidates on previous work experience or extra-curricular activities as we recognised that this was closing doors for some people and resulting in us missing out on a huge pool of untapped talent. For those individuals who are perhaps a carer or need to take a part time job to support themselves or their family, there may be no time for extracurricular activities and we know that gaining relevant work experience can be near on impossible unless you know someone in the profession. Our focus now is on an individual’s potential, as opposed to their historical achievements.

While relevant work experience is not a pre-requisite to joining our firm we know that providing obtain-able work experience to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds is important for raising awareness of the profession. As such, we are a founding signatory of Access Accountancy, a collaboration of firms and professional bodies working to ensure everyone has equal chances of accessing the accountancy profession based on merit not background.

To effect positive change, you first need to understand the current situation. To understand what impact our measures were having we partnered with The Bridge Group, a social mobility charity association, to conduct an analysis involving 20,000 trainee candidates. The research found that our approach to recruitment has widened the socioeconomic diversity of our trainee intake and that trainees with lower academic results are performing at the same level, or better, than those who would have met our previous academic requirements.

Yet we know we can’t stand still and there is more to do. We are now looking at pay and progression in relation to socio-economic backgrounds as well as gender and ethnicity to ensure that we are not only levelling access to those from more diverse backgrounds at entry level, but that they are being treated equally throughout their career at Grant Thornton and we are making a long-lasting impact.

If we want to see widespread progress, it is not enough to simply make changes yourself; collaboration and the sharing of ways in which others can play their part is vital.

It’s heartening that so many of our own people as well as clients and other stakeholders are so keen to engage with this important issue. Helping others to understand what they can do to support social mobility shows that we are able to bring our purpose to life through this agenda.

An example of how we are playing a part in engaging with clients and other stakeholders is our approach to the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. Our recent research shows that 86% of employers believe apprenticeships increase social mobility in their organisations attracting a diverse range of talent and that following the introduction of the levy, 79% of employers have been encouraged to recruit more apprentices.

We are encouraging organisations to use the Levy as an opportunity to develop their entire workforce, elevating it from a perceived entry level tool to one that can help play a role throughout an individual’s career. Apprenticeships are not just for creating the first step into a career but helping people to climb the ladder.

Grant Thornton’s focus has been on levelling the playing field and it believes that apprenticeships are not just for creating the first step into a career – but also helping people to climb the ladder

Considering our clients’ needs and working alongside external partners, we have developed innovative partnerships with Babington to support apprenticeship training across the country from entry level to develop organisations’ finance functions. We are also working with Cranfield to democratise access to the world-class Business School education and upskill management teams through master’s level apprenticeships.

As apprenticeships evolve, it’s important that more employers collaborate with training providers to develop programmes that are completely fit for purpose to help unlock talent throughout their organisations and hep increase the diversity of their teams.

Finally, knowing that advocacy is an important element of the inclusivity and social mobility agenda we are holding a Vibrant Capital Week in May that will celebrate the contribution diverse talent makes to London and the role it plays in shaping a vibrant economy. It is an opportunity for us to encourage other firms to take positive action and show that creating a future proof, diverse workforce is not only good for business; it’s an urgent and ongoing priority for the future of a vibrant economy.

Malcolm Gomersall is Diversity and Inclusion Lead at Grant Thornton UK LLP