Monday 2 August 2021 6:00 am

The City has a duty to prevent people from lower socio-economic backgrounds falling behind

With traditional ways of working being upended by the pandemic, employers and employees across all industries are looking to reinvent their sector and address historic challenges.

For the financial and professional services sector, a key part of this journey has to be achieving a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

Focusing on increasing diversity in the industry is not new and there has been clear progress over the last few years. But what is equally obvious is there are still challenges, especially in ensuring people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are able to access the same breadth of opportunities.

Within the financial and professional services sector, employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds progress 25 per cent slower than their peers, without reference to performance. Nearly half of senior roles are occupied by white males who attended an independent or selective state school.

There is an obvious societal good in creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace. It’s also good for business. A talent pipeline enabling people to deploy their potential whatever their background will ensure that the sector has the skills we need for the future, helping to boost productivity and the wider UK economy.

To understand and address the “progression gap”, the government has tasked the City of London Corporation with running a socio-economic diversity taskforce, made up of senior leaders across subsectors, regions and backgrounds.

The group’s mission is to challenge the lack of career progression for those coming from non-professional backgrounds, explore the intersections with other characteristics such as gender and race, and start making tangible changes.

As part of the ongoing work, the City Corporation has called on firms from the UK’s financial and professional services industry to ask their own colleagues and networks for input. We want them to inform our work and get involved in shaping our outputs.

We want staff at all levels in the sector to influence change by raising awareness of the need for greater socio-economic diversity within their organisations and beyond.

And finally, we want firms to improve the situation by collecting data on workforce socio-economic diversity and exploring their own areas for improvement.

There is real momentum for change, and the we intend to play a key role in delivering real improvements. Through industry consultation, the development of a peer network, and productivity analysis, we will build that all-important business case to start to make a difference.

Anyone can get on board with our work, and I would urge individuals and organisations to get involved in this crucial agenda.

We will be looking at how government, regulators and sector bodies can incentivise firms to take action.

We’ll also look to create a membership body for financial services, where employers can benchmark against each other and share best practice on delivering socio-economic diversity at senior levels. In addition, we will produce a productivity analysis, to build the case for increasing socio-economic diversity at senior levels in financial and professional services.

It’s obvious there is desire for change across the sector. Through the work of the Taskforce with the support of businesses and individuals across the Square Mile, we can ensure that everybody has an equal opportunity to climb the ladder regardless of their background.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.