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New body launches to close class divide in financial sector

Progress Together aims to improve socio-economic diversity at senior level in UK financial services sector

26 May 2022

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A new membership body called Progress Together has been launched as part of efforts to bring people from less privileged backgrounds into senior roles across financial services firms.

The UK-based organisation will offer its members access to workshops, resources, mentoring schemes and benchmarking to improve progression and retention of less-privileged staff.

The launch of Progress Together comes as a new survey of nearly 10,000 people from 49 financial and professional services firms found that employees whose parents did not have professional careers themselves were 30% less likely to reach a senior position in their firm compared with their colleagues.

An earlier report found that about nine out of every 10 senior roles in the financial services sector are held by someone from a higher socio-economic background, which was defined as having at least one parent in a professional career by the age of 14.

The disparity has led to a class pay gap in which people from lower socio-economic backgrounds earn on average £17,500 less than their colleagues. This is the largest sector pay gap in the country, according to research by The Bridge Group, a non-profit consultancy.

Social class, sometimes referred to as the “forgotten dimension of diversity”, was a hot topic at FIA’s IDX conference in September last year, where speakers on a diversity panel agreed that more work needs to be done to ensure talented people of all backgrounds are given the opportunity to succeed.  

Progress Together is the brainchild of a taskforce led by the City of London Corporation, which was commissioned by HM Treasury and the business department in 2020.

Catherine McGuinness, former head of policy at the City of London Corporation and chair of the taskforce, said Progress Together would “help advance our vision of a sector where performance is valued over ‘fit’ and ‘polish’.”

The organisation has launched with 12 founding partners, including Allen & Overy, Man Group, Fidelity International, Santander and Schroders.

Its supporters include the Bank of England, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Social Mobility Commission, which itself does work in this space with its Employers’ Toolkit, which provides practical recommendations to firms in financial services to ensure that talented individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds are not overlooked. 

The membership body is open to UK financial services employers of all sizes with the aim of enabling them to better understand barriers to progress, share best practice, identify emerging issues, and seek necessary changes in policy and practice.

For more information on how to become a member, visit www.ProgressTogether.co.uk.

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