Earlier this year, PFG established an internal Social Mobility Working Group to support the business to create and embed a workplace where entry and progression opportunities are available to future and current colleagues - no matter what their background, to enable them to get on in their careers. Through our Social Impact programme we also do a lot of work with young people in the communities we serve to help them reach their potential too.

As well as setting up our own internal group to improve social mobility, PFG is also part of an independent taskforce which has been set up to boost socio-economic diversity in the UK financial and professional services sectors.

We caught up with Cathy Prior, one of our PFG representatives on the taskforce to find out what all those words really mean...


First of all, can you explain to us what socio-economic diversity means? Everyone has a socio-economic status which is basically determined by the job role and salary your parents had when you were 14. You’ll be from a higher socio-economic background if your parents had higher salaries and had more advanced education, and you’ll be from a lower socio-economic if you’re parents had lower wages and left school at 16.

When we talk about socio-economic diversity, we’re really just talking about the socio-economic mix of people in any one group.


What is the taskforce to boost socio-economic diversity and who set it up?The aim of the taskforce is to improve socio-economic diversity at senior levels in the UK financial and professional services sectors. It was the HM Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy who commissioned the City of London Corporation to lead the taskforce. Over 80 organisations from a range of sectors across the UK are involved – alongside us, there are so many firms, such as PWC, Deloitte, Barclays and Santander all contributing.  

The work done by the taskforce aims to benefit people from lower socio-economic backgrounds, helping them to able to progress into more senior roles.


Why is a National Socio-Economic taskforce needed?
Research from the Bridge Group (a social equality research consultancy) has shown that 89% of senior roles in financial services are held by people from higher socio-economic backgrounds and that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds progress 25% slower than their peers with no link to performance.

The research has also shown that people from lower socio-economic backgrounds are exhausted by trying to conform to work culture standards which are dominated by people from higher socio-economic backgrounds – i.e. how they speak, how they dress, trying to find a topic of conversation. Having to spend time on fitting in, then has a negative impact on the performance of those colleagues.

And there are intersections at play, too. The research found that men in financial services firms are one third more likely to have attended an independent school than their female colleagues - and white employees were twice as likely to have attended an independent school than black colleagues.

Perhaps not surprisingly, when looking at class pay gaps across a range of sectors, four out of the six biggest class-pay gaps are in the financial and professional services sectors, i.e. in law and accountancy.

This taskforce has been established to better understand how all of these factors affect organisational productivity, and what organisations can do to develop socio-economic diversity in senior leaders.


Why else is socio-economic diversity important?
Generally speaking, having a more diverse workforce boosts productivity and it gives employers access to a wider pool of talent. If a company overlooks someone because of their background, there’s always a risk that high performers will move to jobs in more inclusive sectors.  It can also help a business maximise its global competitiveness, and by putting a focus on social mobility in the workforce and making progress, it can support other diversity and inclusion objectives too.

The UK is actually ranked 21st in World Economic Forum’s Global Social Mobility Index – we’re being outperformed by countries such as the USA, Singapore, Japan and Germany.

The need to upskill a broad range of talent is promoted by both the Financial Services Skills Commission and the Professional and Business Services Council, but unfortunately access to training is not equal.

For us at PFG, when our workforce reflects the socio-economic diversity of the customers and communities we serve, it gives us a competitive advantage. Teams with mixed backgrounds and experiences have shown to be more creative, adopt wider perspectives and develop better solutions for our customers, and us as a business.


What opportunities can greater socio-economic diversity bring to the UK?
Overall, colleagues will be more suited to the job they are doing. There’s evidence from other countries that have greater social mobility than the UK which says that people are matched better to job opportunities, and their workforce is more productive. Education is key, and often described as being a strong driver of social mobility – that’s why we do so much work in the schools in the communities we serve.


Why do you go to the taskforce? How does this link with the rest of your work?
I wanted to become part of the taskforce because socio-economic diversity is something I feel very passionate about both in my personal and professional life.

Education is often seen as a strong driver of social mobility and in my role as Social Impact Manager for the education workstream of our Social Impact Programme (SIP) we’re trying to address this through the work with partners such as National Numeracy and National Literacy Trust who are helping young people improve their literacy and numeracy skills.

Plus, through the involvement of our colleague volunteers, we’re providing insights into the world of work and raising aspirations for young people who often have no knowledge of or access to the types of roles available to them.

So it’s really important, not just to me, but to the work I do and the history of our business. For example, did you know that J.K Waddilove invested in schools way back in the 1890s? And there’s still a school called “Waddilove High School” today!?


What did you talk about last time you went to a taskforce meeting?
There are three working groups and the one I sit on is looking at the business case for socio-economic diversity. We’re currently exploring intersectionality to see if there’s a comparison between the number of special characteristics a person has and how this affects their social mobility. Claire Smith, our Head of HR, is part of another workstream within the taskforce that recently set up a new membership body - Progress Together - to level the playing field in the UK's financial services sector.

To help inform PFG’s approach in this area, we asked three additional questions relating to social background in our most recent colleague survey. This data will be used to benchmark how PFG compares to other UK companies in terms of social mobility.


Has PFG done anything already that has contributed to improving socio-economic diversity?
All the work we do through our SIP contributes to social mobility, whether that be providing funding to small community groups who are tackling the issue through our Community Foundation partnerships, or the work we do with our education partners.

For example, we are a founding trustee of the Social Mobility Business Partnership (SMBP), a charity which provides an innovative programme, bringing together large corporate organisations and professional sports clubs to remove barriers, develop skills and provide experiences to sixth-form and college students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The programme helps build aspirations and inspire students to pursue a career in a profession that they may not have previously considered.

There’s always a lot going on! You can read more in our CR report and the stories we share throughout the year too.