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Socio-economic diversity remains low across UK boards

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Socio-economic diversity remains low across UK boards

KPMG published new research that revealed socio-economic diversity is not broadly considered during recruitment and planning, with figures remaining low across UK boards.

Socio-economic background refers to a combination of the social background, income and occupation of an individual. It is a key factor in determining success, access to opportunity and future life changes.

The survey was conducted by KPMG UK’s Board Leadership Centre, with the results being comprised of 64 FTSE 350 company board members. Some of the key findings include:

  • Over two-thirds of respondents came from high socio-economic backgrounds, compared to just 15 per cent from low socio-economic backgrounds, signifying a large gap in boardroom diversity

  • 28 per cent of participants were privately educated, yet only seven per cent of the UK’s total population falls into that category, highlighting an under-representation of publicly educated professionals

  • Mentors and networks continue to play a crucial role in landing positions at the highest level of business, with 67 per cent of respondents claiming they benefitted from both

Bina Mehta, chair of KPMG UK, said: “Over the past decade there has quite rightly been a focus on ethnicity and gender representation in business, and progress had been made in recruiting from a broader base. 

“However, socio-economic diversity has not been a focus, particularly in the make-up of boards, with few businesses reporting on their work to improve social class diversity or factoring it into board recruitment or succession planning.”

Despite the rising pressure on companies to address socio-economic disparities in recent years, the survey revealed that only 16 per cent of respondents said their boards are measuring it and only eight per cent were asked about it during their recruitment process.

Over two-thirds claimed that nomination committees were not factoring it into succession planning. Both statistics imply the metric is seen below other diversity targets. Additionally, of the 17 per cent of respondents who weren’t comfortable sharing their socio-economic status, they thought that having a privileged background would elicit bias.

Ms Mehta added: “Research continues to show that where you come from and what your parents do for a living has an impact on the opportunities that are available to you in life, from work experience and career aspirations, through to hobbies and interests. A focus on social mobility is vital to create a fairer, more equitable society.”

Some UK organisations, including KPMG, have already outlined plans to publish socio-economic pay gaps and laid out targets to add more senior leaders from working-class backgrounds.

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