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Access to elite professions in the UK

Access to elite professions in the UK

Exclusion from the elite professions is cause and effect of wider social inequalities across the UK and is related to low rates of upward social mobility.

Dr Ashley’s research explores and addresses barriers to entry and subsequent career progression within the professions by looking at changes in recruitment practices, developing good practice in third sector organisations and changing public conversations around social exclusion and inequality.

Changes in recruitment practices

Dr Ashley’s research has included numerous recommendations, including the collection of more rigorous data and other adjustments to recruitment and selection processes. Over the past five years, a number of leading law and accountancy firms have adopted the use of contextual data and made important changes to their graduate screening, including removing UCAS tariff and degree classification as an entry criterion.

As a research fellow for the Bridge Group Dr Ashley has contributed to research and audits at numerous major employers, including KPMG, resulting in recommendations which are now being implemented. Dr Ashley was also a member of the team producing the Bridge Group report ‘Early Career Retention in the Law’ which found that lawyers from lower socio-economic backgrounds out-performed their peers but were less likely to be kept on. The report recommended that firms tackle associated structures and cultures and collect relevant data in order to benchmark change.

Good practice in third sector organisations

Dr Ashley is a member of the advisory committee developing the ‘Social Mobility Index’, to help organisations benchmark and improve their performance in relation to social inclusion and has helped to judge entries since its launch. The Index has a direct impact by educating organisations about best practice and encouraging change - over 100 employers in 18 sectors now take part. Her work is often cited in public policy documents and strategy, including for example the City of London Corporation’s social mobility strategy; the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility, published in 2016; the CIPD’s report on ‘What Works’ in diversity and inclusion, published in 2019; and the Legal Services Board ‘Social Mobility Toolkit.’

Changing public conversations around social exclusion and inequality

This research has impacted on conversations both inside and outside the professions by drawing attention to the extent of exclusion on the basis of social class, its causes and its consequences. This is evidenced by very wide domestic and international media coverage in both mainstream and trade press. Dr Ashley also contributed to the BBC documentary ‘How to Break into the Elite’ and appeared in the programme when it aired in August 2019, which helped to raise awareness of the issues at stake, and was watched by 1.13 million viewers.

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