From education to employment

Top 50 UK employers for social mobility

The top 50 UK employers who have taken the most action to improve social mobility in the workplace are announced today (Wednesday 21 June) in what is believed to be the world’s first ever social mobility employer index.

The index is a joint initiative between the Social Mobility Foundation and the Social Mobility Commission, in partnership with the City of London Corporation. It ranks Britain’s employers for the first time on the actions they are taking to ensure they are open to accessing and progressing talent from all backgrounds and it showcases progress towards improving social mobility.

The aim of the index is to encourage firms to share their initiatives and progress in becoming more inclusive employers and to reveal which sectors and companies are taking the issue of social mobility most seriously.

The top 10 firms named in the index top 50 are:

  • Grant Thornton UK LLP
  • Skanska UK PLC
  • Standard Life
  • Deloitte UK
  • JP Morgan
  • PwC
  • Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP
  • WM Morrisons Supermarkets Plc
  • Enterprise Rent-A-Car

Research has consistently shown that people from more affluent backgrounds take a disproportionate number of the best jobs and that employers tend to disproportionately employ graduates who went to private schools and elite universities.

Nearly 100 employers from 17 sectors, who collectively employ just under 1 million people, submitted entries about their practices and procedures in areas such as work with young people, recruitment, selection and progression.

The final rankings (listed below) were decided by a panel of experts and all firms will receive a report with recommendations for areas for improvement.

Key findings include:

  • Firms are now increasingly asking both new and current employees about their social background. Four in 10 ask the type of school attended (41%); a quarter ask if an employee received free school meals (26%); 39% ask if employees were the first in their family to go to university; around 1 in 10 ask about parental occupation (7%) and the postcode where an employee grew up (11%)

  • Just under 1 in 5 of these firms (17%) now set social mobility targets as part of their business strategy

  • The firms collectively scored the highest on their work with young people, providing outreach activities for over 663,000 young people, nearly 10,000 work experience placements and over 5,000 mentors. But they score lowest on helping people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to progress in the workplace

  • Nearly three-quarters of the organisations (72%) are offering apprenticeships, but 77% are at levels 2 and 4 (GCSE or A level equivalent) which have been shown to offer lower returns for the apprentices

  • 96% of firms say they accept degrees from any university, but 61% of successful applicants attended one of the country’s most selective 24 universities (despite making up just 42% of the applications)

  • The top 11 UK universities are visited by employers more than all the other UK universities combined and these 11 are all in the 20% of universities with the lowest percentage of state school students in the country

  • Oxford and Cambridge are visited more than 118 other institutions combined. Some firms still take 100% of their recruits from the most selective universities.

David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation, said:

All the top 50 firms in the Social Mobility Employer Index should be applauded for the progress they are making towards ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get in and get on – regardless of their background.

While no one firm has cracked the issue and there is still progress to be made, they should be congratulated both for having prioritised social mobility and for being prepared to have their processes and practices independently scrutinised.

The Rt Hon Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility Commission, added:

Improving the UK’s dismal social mobility record requires new action by employers and not just governments. It is very welcome that more employers are changing their workforce strategies to ensure they don’t lose out on talented people from less privileged backgrounds. The top 50 are paving the way and I thank them for their efforts. Where they are leading, I hope others will follow.

The annual publication of this index aims to shine a light on how and where progress is being made. Employers that have employees at all levels from a rich variety of social backgrounds are better placed to meet the demands and uncertainties of today’s world. Social mobility is good for employers. And employers can make a major contribution to creating a more mobile society.

Catherine McGuinness, Policy Chairman for the City of London Corporation said:

These firms have shown real ambition in their approach to tackling social mobility. They are leading the way in removing the barriers which are holding back the best and brightest candidates in our society. Statistics show that people from more prosperous backgrounds, who attend private schools and elite universities, often take a disproportionate number of the best jobs.

But more companies are making progress on social mobility, casting the net wider in the search for talent and recognising that a level playing field is in the best interests for all businesses. The index is an effective incentive to UK businesses to demonstrate the progress they are making in this vital area.

The top 50 Social Mobility Employer Index rankings by sector

Ranking Company Sector
1 Grant Thornton UK LLP Professional services
2 KPMG UK LLP Professional services
3 Skanska UK PLC Engineering or industrial
4 Standard Life Investment bank or fund management
5 Deloitte UK Professional services
6 JP Morgan Banking or financial services
7 PwC Professional services
8 Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP Law
9 WM Morrisons Supermarkets Plc Retail
10 Enterprise Rent-A-Car Retail
11 Baker McKenzie Law
12 Civil Service Fast Stream and Early Talent Civil Service
13 Fujitsu IT and telecommunications
14 Ministry of Justice Public sector
15 Pinsent Masons LLP Law
16 EY Professional services
17 Burges Salmon Law
18 Aspire Housing Housing, skills and employment and regeneration
19 Clifford Chance Law
20 Linklaters LLP Law
21 Rolls Royce Plc Engineering or industrial
22 Lloyds Banking Group Banking or financial services
23 EDF Energy Energy, utility or water
24 O2 IT and telecommunications
25 Herbert Smith Freehills Law
26 Hogan Lovells International LLP Law
27 Simmons & Simmons Law
28 BBC Public sector
29 Eversheds Sutherland LLP Law
30 Aberdeen Asset Management Banking or financial services
31 Barts Health NHS Trust Public sector
32 Freeths LLP Law
33 Barclays Bank Plc Banking or financial services
34 National Grid Plc Energy, utility or water
35 The Honourable Society of the Inner Temple Law
36 M&G Investments Investment bank or fund management
37 HM Revenue & Customs Public sector
38 Severn Trent Energy, utility or water
39 Brodies LLP Law
40 HM Treasury Public sector
41 Bank of England Banking or financial services
42 CH2M Engineering or industrial
43 HFW Law
44 Ministry of Defence Public sector
45 Schroders Investment bank or fund management
46 DLA Piper Law
47 FDM Group IT and telecommunications
48 Charles Russell Speechlys Law
49 Department for Education Civil Service
50 Stephenson Harwood Law


The Social Mobility Employer Index was developed in consultation with, and following feedback from social mobility experts and major employers. Employers entering the index did so free of charge and voluntarily. To enter, they had to answer questions about actions they are taking in at least one of the following sections:

  • working with young people – well-evaluated programmes that reach beyond the doorstep of the office to all of the country’s talent, and which provide routes into the employer/profession for those that have the interest and aptitude
  • routes into work – well-structured, non-graduate routes that provide genuine parity of esteem and comparable progression to graduate ones
  • attraction – innovative ways of reaching beyond graduates of the usual 5 to 10 universities many top employers focus their efforts on
  • recruitment and selection – evidence that the employer removes hurdles that will disproportionately affect those from lower socio-economic groups and is moving to a system that judges potential rather than past academic performance or polish
  • data collection – rigorous analysis of the profile of the workforce and of measures taken to improve its diversity
  • progression – effective strategies that help those from lower socio-economic groups get on rather than just get in
  • internal/external advocacy – action to get more of their staff involved in efforts to improve social mobility and to get suppliers/peer firms to also take action

The submissions were marked using a strict mark scheme and the list of scores was then benchmarked both within the same sector and across different employment sectors. In targeting sectors that have sometimes been identified as needing to improve their socio-economic diversity, the index recognises that process often has to be introduced before progress can be made and does not punish employers for starting from a low base, but rather rewards them for taking significant action to improve this. The top 50 are thus those taking the most action on social mobility and not the 50 that are already the most representative of the country at large.

Employers had the option to enter anonymously to receive feedback on their strategies; if they finished in the top 50 they then had the choice of whether to remain anonymous. Two employers did so and this meant those underneath them moved up the published ranking.

Both the development of the index and the benchmarking was supported by an advisory group whose membership has representatives from the Association of Graduate Recruiters, the Bridge Group, Royal Holloway University, Stonewall and the Social Mobility Commission.

The Social Mobility Foundation

  • The Social Mobility Foundation (SMF) is a charity which aims to make practical improvement in social mobility for young people from low-income backgrounds.
  • It runs free of charge programmes of mentoring, internships, university application support (including trips to universities and help with personal statements, aptitude tests and interviews) and career and skills workshops to support young people through their sixth form and university years.
  • Currently taking on a new cohort of over 1,400 young people every year, the SMF has offices in Birmingham, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Newcastle and runs residential programmes for young from the Isle of Wight to the Western Isles of Scotland across 11 career sectors (accountancy, architecture, banking and finance, biology and chemistry, business, engineering and physics, law, media and communications, medicine, politics and technology).

The Social Mobility Commission

The Social Mobility Commission is an advisory, non-departmental public body established under the Life Chances Act 2010 as modified by the Welfare Reform and Work Act 2016. It has a duty to assess progress in improving social mobility in the United Kingdom and to promote social mobility in England. It currently consists of 4 commissioners and is supported by a small secretariat.

The commission board currently comprises:

  • Alan Milburn (chair)
  • Baroness Gillian Shephard (deputy chair)
  • Paul Gregg, Professor of Economic and Social Policy, University of Bath
  • David Johnston, Chief Executive of the Social Mobility Foundation

The functions of the commission include:

  • monitoring progress on improving social mobility
  • providing published advice to ministers on matters relating to social mobility
  • undertaking social mobility advocacy

The City of London Corporation

  • The City of London Corporation supports and promotes the City as a world leading financial and business hub. It is dedicated to a thriving global City supporting a strong and diverse London within a prospering nation.
  • It boosts young people’s skills and employability through its partnership with City institutions to tackle youth unemployment including through apprenticeships, mentoring, paid work placements schemes and responsible procurement.
  • The City Corporation has created ‘The City’s business’ – a guide which highlights the vital role that City firms can play in reducing youth unemployment in London, and it has pledged to employ 100 apprentices by the end of 2017 to 2018.
  • The City of London Business Traineeship programme, run of behalf of the City of London Corporation, helps state school students from the City’s neighbouring boroughs to develop the skills needed for a successful career.
  • Through the award-winning programme, students can access 6- to 13-week paid internships at some of the City’s most prestigious businesses and institutes. Since the programme launched in 1994, over 1,500 young people have benefited from paid internships with more than 100 of the Square Mile’s top employers providing placements.
  • The City Corporation provides state education through its sponsorship of academies across Hackney, Islington and Southwark, where 77% of students achieved 5A* to C grades in subjects including English and mathematics.
  • It supports London’s communities through responsible business, charitable giving, improving the capital’s air quality, providing education and skills for young people and delivering affordable housing across seven London boroughs – and it is building another 3,700 homes across London by 2025.
  • The City Corporation encourages businesses to support their communities, their workforce and the environment through the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards, the Sustainable City Awards and Heart of the City.
  • City Bridge Trust, the City of London Corporation’s charitable funder, is London’s biggest independent grant giver, making grants of £20 million a year to tackle disadvantage across the capital. The trust has awarded around 7,600 grants totalling over £350 million since it first began in 1995. It helps achieve the corporation’s aim of changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

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