Kevin Ellis, the chairman of PwC UK, has emphasised the importance of working in a communal office for early-career accountants. While many people have adapted to home or hybrid working during the pandemic, Ellis has suggested that this might not be the best path for everyone.
Speaking to The Institute of Chartered Accountants (ICAEW), Ellis said that younger accountants may miss out on learning and development opportunities if they worked from home. He stressed that this is especially important for those staff from non-traditional backgrounds, as the sector is working hard to close socio-economic pay gaps.
He said: “Professional services firms are built around learning and development. A big part of learning comes from face-to-face interaction - observing others, reading people’s reactions, consulting with others over decisions and judgments. That’s one of the key reasons I want to give younger employees the opportunity to come into the office.”
Ellis also expressed concern that the trend for homeworking was unfair on those just starting out, or from disadvantaged backgrounds, who may lack the space and ideal conditions to work comfortably from home.
The accountancy industry as a whole is addressing other areas of inequality among its workforce, amid a drive to ‘level up’ a profession that has been dominated by white middle class men. The ICAEW reports that a survey of the top 20 accountancy firms in the UK currently has a median gender pay gap of 15-20%, for example.
This figure is above the national average of 10.4% across all sectors. However, the article points out that the problem with accountancy lies not with recruitment, but with retention. At junior levels, the gender balance is equal, but becomes more favourable to men in senior roles.
The top firms are taking steps to try and redress the balance. This includes initiatives such as mentoring schemes, support networks, family-friendly policies, and quotas for equal representation at the highest levels. However, like attempts to increase diversity in other areas, it is unclear how these measures will be affected by hybrid or home working.
PwC is regarded as one of the most progressive firms to work for in terms of equality and diversity, and last year was ranked the top UK employer in the Social Mobility Employer Index 2020. Ellis is keen to continue providing office space to ensure staff can socialise and build networks, but also has flexible working policies to allow for some home working.
The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF), which compiles the employer indexes, works to address the bias employers show towards job applicants from private schools and elite universities. There are fears that the pandemic will have caused setbacks that have hit young people form lower socio-economic backgrounds the hardest.
The 2020 Index revealed that progress is being made, particularly in areas such as law and financial services. Some firms, including PwC, have targeted action plans in place to increase social mobility through recruitment. This not only increases the talent pool and strengthens the culture, but also leads to higher client approval ratings, the SMF explains.
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