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Dramatic fall in proportion of privately educated CEOs

The proportion of FTSE100 CEOs who were privately educated has fallen markedly in recent years. According to the report Class Ceilings from Equal Approach, the figure has dropped by around 14 per cent since comparable research six years ago.

Currently, almost 40 per cent of CEOs went to private schools. In 2007, a study by the Sutton Trust put the figure at 54 per cent. Equal Approach said that the fall could be due to a more diverse mix of people going to university, and increased scrutiny of the make-up of boards, leading to a more varied recruitment pool.

However, the authors raised their concerns that while 7 per cent of the population as a whole is privately educated, 45 per cent of FTSE100 senior executives went to a private school. They also said that the proportion of people who were privately educated when the average CEO was finishing school in the late 1970s was actually lower than it is now, at 5.7 per cent.

The report also found that more than a quarter of the group had attended Oxford or Cambridge University, prompting it to speculate about an '"alumni network" in which decisions are made behind closed doors or at external events, or leads to an unconscious bias when recruiting [sic]'.

What has emerged from diversity studies in general is the importance of recognising the value of nurturing talent from a range of backgrounds. A diverse board has been found to create better conditions for effective decision-making than a board drawn from similar backgrounds. Ensuring recruitment panels are similarly diverse will also help to dilute any bias.

Promoting a diverse workforce requires effort and genuine consideration of how to recruit and retain people from diverse backgrounds. A superficial commitment to diversity is likely to sap resources while bringing meagre rewards. Organisations committed to diversity can demonstrate their focus by updating their policies to ensure inclusivity runs through every department. Diversity training also has a role to play.

Acas can visit organisations and help them develop a comprehensive diversity strategy and give advice about what needs to be done to address a range of related issues; go to Equality and diversity: how Acas can help. Acas also runs practical training courses on a host of topics associated with Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010 and Recruitment.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects page for more information.

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