Workplace Report February 2023

Equality news

Background is biggest hurdle to career progression

A workers’ socio-economic background is a bigger barrier to climbing the career ladder than gender, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation, according to research by KPMG.

The consulting firm’s “progression gap” analysis of 16,500 employees’ career paths over five years found that class background – as measured by parental occupation – had the largest impact on a worker’s path through the firm, with those from lower backgrounds taking 19% longer on average to reach the next job grade.

It found that class was a bigger factor than disability or sexual orientation, while women and BAME employees progress slightly faster than average; although a “hierarchy of progression” still holds back workers with those characteristics who come from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In 2021 KPMG became one of the first companies to publish a social mobility pay gap and it responded to the new research by committing to review its approach to work allocation, re-evaluate the data it collects on workplace progression, and introduce a promotion readiness programme.

“Career advancement should be about realising potential, and not someone’s background or ‘polish’,” said KPMG UK’s chief executive Jon Holt. “Socio-economic background is complex and emotive, but as businesses we need to lean into this discomfort if we are to make progress.”