Is a push for diversity dumbing down standards in the City of London?

Is a push for diversity dumbing down standards in the City of London?

Updated: 9 days, 8 hours, 39 minutes, 40 seconds ago

Billionaire hedge fund manager Chris Rokos values academic achievement – even for people doing more mundane roles at his company.

In November, when Rokos Capital Management advertised for a job managing the Apple devices of a board member – a role dubbed an “iPad Butler” for a senior staff member and his family – the company specified that applicants needed a minimum 2.1 degree from a Russell Group university.

The job advert for a “VIP Support Engineer” stated: “In order for you to get the most out of this role, you will need to have: Comprehensive understanding of Apple media products and features e.g. Apple TV, HomePod, iPad, iPhone, Family Sharing, iTunes, Photos; Experience supporting executives and/or VIP families... [And] a strong academic background (minimum 2.1 degree from a Russell Group University and A levels at grade A*/A/B – or international equivalents).”

The high academic bar contrasts with the increasingly laissez faire attitude to degrees in the City. A growing number of finance and professional services companies have scrapped demands for a 2.1 degree for their graduate recruits, lowering the bar for applicants.

In recent months, PwC, Santander and Schroders were among companies to abolish this long-standing recruitment norm in the Square Mile in what they say is a bid to enhance the diversity of their workforces.

However, as these firms open up their programmes to anyone with a third class degree, critics argue that the City risks dumbing itself down by diminishing the importance of academic achievement – and putting itself at a disadvantage to rival financial centres.  

Ian Elliot, chief people officer at PwC UK, says when the Big Four accounting and consulting firm announced its decision in August, there were “a few people internally asking whether we were lowering the bar”.

But Elliot is convinced that he made the correct decision.

“Our principal reason for [scrapping the 2.1 requirement] is shifting the focus to potential rather than pedigree,” he says. “That’s not to say that academics are irrelevant, but exam results are not indicative of someone’s potential.”

PwC will assess candidates' potential through a series of verbal, numerical and reasoning tests, as well as formal interviews.

Not everyone agrees that scrapping the 2.1 threshold is a good idea, however. Hendrik du Toit, chief executive of FTSE 250 money manager Ninety One, has a pithy view: “This is woke nonsense,” he says.  

“We believe in excellence but also opportunity for those less fortunate. We have never had formulaic guidelines for hiring. We believe in the power of a diverse workforce. Having said that, academic achievement is a useful indicator of intellectual capability.”

Other professions in the City continue to strongly link academic excellence with career potential. Slaughter and May, the elite “magic circle” law firm, demands that candidates have a “sharp intellect” and a “good 2.1 degree” before applying.

Even after contracts are signed and graduates have started their traineeships, Slaughters has traditionally shown little leeway toward those failing even one of their qualification LPC exams. Failure to pass leads to trainsees generally having their jobs rescinded, though it is understood that the firm takes personal circumstances into consideration before letting staff go for failing exams.

The decision to relax hiring requirements in some corners of the City comes amid a tight squeeze in Britain's labour market, with many firms struggling to attract and retain staff.

Both Santander and PwC stressed that their respective decisions were not linked to job market pressures.