by Kristina Murkett
Monday, 13
September 2021
Spotted
16:30

KPMG enters the diversity minefield

The firm wants more working class staff, but can't define who they are
by Kristina Murkett
KPMG wants a significant percentage of these people to be working class. (Photo by In Pictures Ltd./Corbis via Getty Images)

Last week, KPMG announced that they are aiming to recruit more working class staff, and by 2030 want 29% of its workers to come from parents with “routine and manual” jobs such as drivers, cleaners and farm workers.

On the surface this seems like a worthy and admirable cause, and it is refreshing to see a large corporation using a broader definition of inclusion and diversity that includes class as well as race, gender and sexual orientation. However, there are also some serious questions that need answering if KPMG are going to be able to justify judging their applicants by ancestry rather than achievements.

Firstly, how exactly do we define ‘working class’? The phrase “routine and manual” is not only slightly degrading (there is nothing routine about skilled craft work such as, say, carpentry), but also anachronistic; “routine and manual” plumbers, electricians and train drivers nowadays can earn far more than traditionally ‘professional’ jobs such as teachers, secretaries and office managers. Not all careers fall neatly into a discrete category: what about work that is manual but not routine (for example, a veterinary nurse), or routine but not manual (say, bar staff)? What about social and care workers too — do they count?

How do you ensure candidates are genuinely working class? (Whatever that means). A recent study by the British Social Attitudes Survey shows that 47 percent of people in middle-class professional and managerial jobs identify as working class, and a quarter of people whose parents also did professional work identify as working class too. This misidentification may partly come from guilt, and it may also partly come from a need to say that their success was earned, not given. Either way, all this initiative will do is encourage people to disavow and downplay their privilege for fear of being discriminated against.

Rather than obsessing about candidates’ background, there are other ways that KPMG can help — for example, funding travel expenses or even accommodation for interviews and internships; expanding their work with academies and comprehensive schools; and promoting their apprenticeship schemes so that students don’t need a degree to get their foot in the door.

And if we really want to encourage social mobility, then levelling the playing field needs to come much earlier, through better state education. No one wants to carry the stigma — that inevitably comes with any form of positive discrimination or affirmative action — that they are part of some ‘special’ category that needs extra help to get on. Instead, we need to raise the standards at state schools so that disadvantaged students have the ability, experience and qualifications needed to compete in their own right.

Finally, it’s hard not to feel that this policy is actually self-serving corporate posturing that provides a timely distraction from KPMG’s bigger problems. Earlier this month KPMG was accused of giving false and misleading information to the Financial Reporting Council, whilst in July the firm was criticised by the UK accounting regulator for its ‘unacceptable’ bank audits for the third year in the row.

Even if we could assume that their intentions are honourable, pigeon-holing staff into a particular class, and disregarding years of experience and hard work, seems to cause more problems than it solves. Ultimately the aim should be equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
8 months ago

““routine and manual” plumbers, electricians and train drivers nowadays can earn far more than traditionally ‘professional’ jobs such as teachers, secretaries and office managers.”
Plumbers and especially electricians are high class applied logicians. As a former academic philosopher, I respect their nous far more than that of modern humanities graduates.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago

KPMG are clearly trying to launder their image after their huge scandal in South Africa in 2017 – KPMG was the auditing firm that went rogue at the centre of many of our State Capture scandals. They are a dirty word in this country.
“The costs of contemporary State Capture in South Africa have been disastrous. Taking into account the money lost directly to corruption, low or non-existent economic growth, lost jobs, and an explosion of public debt and borrowing costs, estimates range from the conservative R500-billion to R1.5-trillion.”
https://www.accountancyage.com/2017/09/27/kpmg-rocked-south-african-corruption-scandal/

Last edited 8 months ago by Lesley van Reenen
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
8 months ago

What idiots.

” (there is nothing routine about skilled craft work such as, say, carpentry)”

Well I happen to be a Carpenter, and it is very routine, tedious, and hard work. But one way I could show my credentials as working class (although I come from Upper-Middle class, just messed my life up) is if you shake my hand – I do not have to wear gloves to handle lumber or rough things, I have that badge of honour, working man’s hands, knuckles a bit over large, hands smooth, but hard like leather, from decades of manual labour.

A funny thing happened a couple years ago – I was seeing a doctor for a physical and after he asked me what I did (he was surprised at my cardio for my age) and when I told him I am a Carpenter he said he thought that, as he could tell a carpenter by his hands.

So where do I fit? Are what we are, or are we what our parents were.

Tim Bartlett
Tim Bartlett
8 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Ignore the classifiers. They do it for their own reasons, nothing useful for you.

Anyone who selects on anything other than ability is a danger to both customers and shareholders.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
8 months ago
Reply to  Tim Bartlett

If I was KPMG HR, I would be very keen on electricians. They have highly transferable skills as applied logicians.

D Ward
D Ward
8 months ago

When does one cease to be “working class”?

So, a “working class” person “does good” and becomes a partner at KPMG. This person’s children cannot be working class, and are therefore cut off from “progressing” and ineligible to become a partner at KPMG?

Don’t get me wrong. As a grandchild of extremely working class grandparents, and child of lower-middle class parents, i agree i am (must be) middle class, despite the childhood scars of beetroot as the only entry at the table at my grandparents’ for tea. fFS what child would eat beetroot for tea now, on its own, because it was grown in the allotment for free (cf. “veganism”)?

There’s a reason i’ve worked my proverbial b o llcks off. I don’t want to be my grandparents. And yet, my children are to be penalised for it.

Last edited 8 months ago by D Ward
Julia H
Julia H
8 months ago

Hopelessly misguided. They should be scrapping all diversity targets and recruiting solely on merit.

That aside, apart from the difficulty of defining working class, they appear to have overlooked (or more likely just conflated) the sizeable underclass, which can usually be characterised by adults of working age who don’t work and exist on benefits, or who are engaged in the black economy. Occasionally one of their children will be very bright and will do well, maybe even getting to university. The difficulty for such young people is that they will likely lack the social skills and networks to fit in at the likes of KPMG where their background will make them stick out like a sore thumb. (Full disclosure: I’m from a working class family.)

Last edited 8 months ago by Julia H
Dalla Jenney
Dalla Jenney
8 months ago

What class am I? My father was a sailor who later helped his single mother run a wholesale grocery business, my mother was a nurse. I got a scholarship to a top private school and then went on to Cambridge. Would an elite school and Oxbridge graduate count as working class for KPMG? For how long does my class remain defined by my parents’ occupations?

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
8 months ago

Rather than recruiting people from ‘working class backgrounds’ to senior level jobs that they may not be able to do, it would be more useful for universities and employers to provide mentors to help students and new recruits to find their way around the system and make the contacts necessary to progress. When I joined the civil service in 1982, as a graduate, I didn’t really know what it was, and I certainly didn’t know that, in those days, departments all had a London HQ and that was the place to progress. I worked with people who were the children of senior civil servants who had the advantage of knowing the system, and it definitely helped. Education is important but it isn’t enough; social skills and contacts are vital too.

No Wei
No Wei
8 months ago

Working class white boys and girls are the most unrepresented group in UK universities, and grossly so at that.
Whilst the author and others commenting below can point to examples of plumbers and carpenters as exceptions, there is a vast workforce of hospitality workers, drivers, warehouse workers, cleaners, security guards, not to mention the underemployed and unemployed, whose offspring will have no confusion as to what their class is. They are extremely unrepresented everywhere of consequence, from parliament on downwards.
When the Nikes and Cokes of this world announce diversity and inclusiveness based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other intersectional criteria, the first reaction is not to say that it is to cover up their failings in using forced labour in China, or contributing to the diabetes epidemic. Why trot out KPMG’s issues, as if such ad hominem points negated the benefits of what they are seeking to achieve, just because the diversity they seek to address is economic?
This is a wholly laudable initiative, which one could not say about this article.

Last edited 8 months ago by No Wei
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
8 months ago

Kristina Murkett seems here to exemplify part of the problem here in not really understanding the new working class. This is as big as it has ever been, though not generally working in heavy industry and much less visible as a group than in the past, and with perhaps less of a strong and distinctive culture.

Yes, there are well paid plumbers and other tradesmen, but more typically cleaners, porters, drivers, security staff, supermarket workers, warehouse workers etc. They are less visible and easier to ignore as a group.

Last edited 8 months ago by Andrew Fisher
David McDowell
David McDowell
8 months ago

Good points about image laundry from other commentators but we should still give credit where credit is due. KPMG’s strategy is about changing outcomes not merely equalising opportunity.
The policies suggested by the author are ineffective because they can’t change outcomes fast enough, so we must embrace policies like KPMG’s if we are to live in a fairer society.
The real alternative to strategies like KPMG’s is living with unfair outcomes in the longer run and balancing that with much more generous non-contributory benefits e.g. GMI.