As a firm, we're committed to enhancing social mobility. Karen Campbell-Williams talks about how her working-class upbringing shaped her drive and passion for learning, and shares insight into our approach.

My parents both left their homes in the remote countryside of Donegal for the chance of a better life in Glasgow. My father worked as a labourer, building roads and bridges, while my mother had a number of jobs, including phone operator and bus conductor.

They worked incredibly hard and were very careful with money. Eventually, my father and uncle built a successful business doing infrastructure work on housing developments and my parents saved enough to buy their first house away from the council estate I had spent my early years in.

Still, starting a new school in a different area of Glasgow was challenging for me. I was quite far behind the other children and had to do remedial work to catch up. I really didn’t like being behind, so I worked hard to close the gap.

My parents were emotionally supportive, but they couldn’t help much with schoolwork. Though they were both intelligent people, neither had the opportunity for much in the way of formal education, both leaving school at a young age.

When it came to choosing a career, I didn't have many family friends or close relatives who had been graduates to tell me how I could prepare, so I had to research courses myself.

I eventually chose accountancy because graduate job prospects were high, but I chose to defer entry to my course by a year to prepare myself for that new environment and in that year undertook more study and exams.

'For me, social mobility is not simply about someone from a council estate becoming a successful high-earning executive, it’s about increasing opportunity where there was none before.'

Getting into accountancy

When I started out in accountancy, I lacked confidence. My upbringing had taught me to work hard, but I didn't know anything about being in an office or the rules of the corporate world.

Support from excellent mentors helped me to build confidence in my abilities and, ultimately, to progress to partner.  They gave me the opportunity to get involved in complex work and to showcase my knowledge by speaking at events.  This taught me the importance of confidence building feedback and not being afraid to take a measured risk or try new things outside of my comfort zone.  I also learned that seeing yourself through the eyes of others that you respect is a good counter to the inner critic we all have. 

For me, social mobility is not simply about someone from a council estate becoming a successful high-earning executive, it’s about increasing opportunity where there was none before, and reducing the power gap that means those who start off life with more money, and more influence to shape society, continue to do so.  Social mobility is really important to me and that is why I am one of our Social Mobility sponsors on our Strategic Leadership Team.

Social mobility at Grant Thornton

The most recent (2019) State of the Nation report from the Social Mobility Commission found the UK’s better off are still 80% more likely to make it into professional jobs than those from working-class backgrounds.

Our data reflects this, showing that the top-three parental occupations for our employees are not working-class professions.

However, the data also tells us that 34% of our employees and 49% of our partners are from families where neither parent was educated to degree level or higher, suggesting a high proportion of our people are the first generation in their family to gain a degree.

It’s exciting for us to share this data outside of our firm because it’s the information that we use to make decisions about where to focus our efforts to continue increasing access and opportunity.

We have committed to reviewing the social mobility data of our people to ensure we’ve worked to build pay and progression dashboards for every leader in the firm, allowing them to review reward and progression decisions in context of socio-economic background.

We believe in a data-driven approach to ensure accountability for diversity and we're currently working on a review of how the intersection of socio-economic background, ethnicity and gender impacts work allocation for our executives.

However, like all businesses there are still things that we can do better. Initial findings from data analysis suggest that, in some parts of our business, we need to do more work to ensure that work is allocated more evenly and fairly, which is something that we are reviewing and will introduce measures to improve.

We're building an inclusive and diverse culture

Diversity helps us meet your needs and helps us perform at our best

We’ve been working tirelessly since 2013 to improve access to careers in our firm.

Some examples of recent work we’re really proud of include:

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Our firm’s socio-economic background data 2020’

Top three parental occupations for our people (response rate of 66% for employees and 80% for partners)

1 Modern professional occupations such as: teacher/lecturer, nurse, physiotherapist, social worker, welfare officer, artist, musician, police officer (sergeant or above), software designer

2 Senior managers and administrators usually responsible for planning, organising and co-ordinating work and for Finance such as: finance manager, chief executive

3 Technical and craft occupations such as: motor mechanic, fitter, inspector, plumber, printer, tool maker, electrician, gardener, train driver

Data showing parental education background for our people

Parents Education No qualifications Below degree level At least one has degree qualification or above Prefer not to answer/other
Employees 7% 27% 37% 29%
Partners 13% 36.50% 36% 14.50%

Data showing school type attended by our people

School Type Non-Selective State School Selective State School Private School (non-bursary) Private School (bursary) Prefer not to answer/other
Employees 39% 17% 12% 4% 28%
Partners 43% 17% 19% 7% 14%

Percentage of our people who received free school meals

  Free School Meals
Employees 8%
Partners 8.50%