Social mobility and the public sector | 3. ACCA member and student survey on social mobility

Social mobility and the public sector | 3. ACCA member and student survey on social mobility

3. ACCA member and student survey on social mobility

In 2017, 13,653 ACCA members and students from around the world responded to a survey exploring issues related to social mobility. Of these respondents, over 1,300 were working in the public sector.

ACCA members and students from over 160 countries took part in the survey. There was particularly strong participant in the UK, China, Pakistan and Malaysia. Public sector respondents were particularly well represented in sub-Saharan Africa, the UK and Pakistan.

The majority of demographic results from the survey, such as gender and respondent status (eg member or student), were similar across the public sector and other sector samples. The one major divergence was the age of respondents: public sector respondents were more likely to be older than respondents from other sectors. The largest cohort for the public sector was 36- to 50-year olds, whereas the largest cohort of respondents from the other sectors was between the ages of 25 and 36.

Figure 3.1: Age of respondents, by sector

3.1 Strong support for social mobility

It is clear from the survey data that finance professionals working in any sector believe in equal opportunity for all: 92% of respondents felt it was important that people should have access to career opportunities regardless of their social background. A comparison of those in different sectors who rate social mobility as ‘very important’ demonstrates some divergence (Figure 3.2). Well over two-thirds (71%) of public sector finance professionals said that having an equal opportunity is very important, whereas only 63% of those working in other sectors took this view.

Figure 3.2: Importance of career opportunities regardless of background

3.2 Those from relatively privileged socio-economic backgrounds are just as likely to value social mobility as the less privileged

Respondents were grouped into those with higher SEBs and those with less privileged SEBs. Higher SEB respondents had a parent or guardian who had completed at least a university degree and worked as a professional or manager. These higher SEB respondents represented only 27.5% of the total survey sample. Interestingly, support for ‘equal opportunity’ was just as common across the range of socio-economic backgrounds. Those with higher SEBs were just as likely as the rest to rate equal opportunity as ‘very important’ or ‘important’. This demonstrates that finance professionals, irrespective of social background, are committed to equal access and opportunity.

Figure 3.3: How important is it to you that career opportunities are available to people regardless of their social background? (Responses split by socio-economic background)

3.3 Finance careers start later in the public sector

The survey data show that respondents working in the public sector started their finance careers later than their peers in other sectors (Figure 3.4). Two-thirds of respondents (67%) working in the public sector started their ACCA qualification at age 26 or older – with the largest cohort starting in their late 20s. In comparison, respondents working in other sectors were much more likely to have started pursuing their ACCA qualification between the ages of 18 and 22 (43%). There are large differentials between the public sector respondents and their peers in other sectors across all age bands, with public sector respondents being more than twice as likely to have started their ACCA qualification in their 40s than a respondent working in any other sector.

Figure 3.4: At what age did you start the ACCA qualification?

Alongside starting their qualification later, public sector respondents were also more likely to achieve full membership at an older age (Figure 3.5). The majority (59%) of ACCA members working in other sectors became full members between the ages of 21 and 30, whereas most public sector respondents (54%) became full members in their 30s or 40s.

Figure 3.5: At what age did you become an ACCA member?

So public finance professionals typically began their ACCA studies, and became a member, later in life. This could be driven by the public sector’s accessibility as an employer for those looking to pursue a second career in accountancy and finance. The public sector might also be better placed for supporting individuals in achieving their career development goals. For example, an individual entering the civil service as a generalist could be supported in pursuing a professional qualification, even if it is relatively late in their career.

3.4 Public finance professionals come from more disadvantaged backgrounds

There were significant differences in the SEBs of respondents by sector. The survey showed that public finance professionals were more likely than those in other sectors to come from comparatively disadvantaged backgrounds. Respondents with a parent who had completed university and worked as a professional or manager were categorised as coming from a higher SEB (Figures 3.7 and 3.8). On the basis of this grouping, only 20% of respondents working in the public sector came from a higher SEB. This was in comparison to 28% of respondents working in other sectors who came from a higher SEB.

Figure 3.6: Socio-economic background, by sector

Figure 3.7: Profession of primary income-earning parent(s) or guardian(s) at the time respondents were between ages 11 and 16

Figure 3.8: Maximum level of education achieved by parent(s) or guardian(s)

These findings were consistent when assessing the educational attainment of each respondent’s parent or guardian, as well as the parent or guardian’s occupation. Public sector finance professionals were less likely to have parents or guardians working as managers or professionals and were more likely to have a parent or guardian who had completed only primary education.

These results suggest that, globally, the public sector finance function is providing a more effective route into the profession for those from lower SEBs. This could be the result of better diversity and open access initiatives in the public sector or it could be led by an organisational culture that is more aware of biases, where some of these issues are overcome through additional processes such as name-blind application assessment.

3.5 Those with relatively privileged socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to be influenced by parents in choosing a professional career

The survey also explored respondents’ motivations for and influences on joining the accountancy profession. Irrespective of sector, respondents were most likely to decide independently to pursue an accountancy career and the most common influencer for joining the profession was a friend or colleague. Many of the results were consistent for respondents from lower and higher SEBs, but the influence of parents showed a pronounced difference between the two groups. Respondents from a higher SEB were more likely to report that a parent had influenced their decision to join the accountancy profession (16%), than their lower SEB peers (10%). Respondents from a higher SEB had exposure to university-educated family members who work as professionals or managers. These respondents were able to benefit from the influence of parents in electing to pursue an accountancy qualification.

Figure 3.9: Who influenced you in choosing to pursue an career in accounting and finance?

3.6 ACCA qualification seen as more accessible by public sector respondents

Public sector respondents were particularly likely to describe the ACCA qualification as ‘accessible’. The survey showed that a large majority of both public sector (81%) and all other sector respondents (73%) described the ACCA qualification as ‘accessible’. Finance professionals working in the public sector were more likely to report that the ACCA qualification was ‘very accessible’ (46%) than their peers working in other sectors (39%).This could partly be explained by the fact that public finance professionals start their careers later and are able to apply their existing work experience to their learning in pursuing a professional qualification.

Figure 3.10: In your opinion, how accessible is the ACCA qualification compared with others?