Class still dominates Britain’s boardrooms, according to research published today. ‘Class Ceilings’, a report produced by diversity consultant Equal Approach, reveals that 45.2% of FTSE 100 senior executives went to private school. This compares with just 7% of the general population.

The report looked at the secondary school background of FTSE 100 CEOs and Chairs educated in the UK, and the universities they attended.

It reveals that over one quarter – 28.1% – went to either Oxford or Cambridge. Including Oxbridge graduates, over half – 52.6% – went to one of the prestigious Russell Group universities. Oxbridge graduates who made it to the top of UK boardrooms were overwhelmingly educated privately: 63.2% of those who studied at either Oxford or Cambridge first attended a private school.

Dawn Milman-Hurst, chief executive of Equal Approach, said: “The fact that in 2013 almost half of the UK’s top business positions are still occupied by people who were privately educated is disappointing. A lot of attention has been paid to the ‘glass ceiling’ and lack of female representation at board level; but we should also consider the ‘class ceiling’ which state-schooled pupils can find hard to break. It’s time we restated our commitment to fair access in UK plc so that anyone can make it to the top of business, whatever their background.”

The report also breaks down the results by sector, to find those with the highest and lowest proportions of state-schooled senior executives:

  • None of the leaders of the biggest banks were privately educated in the UK.
  • But in the oil and gas sector, 60% of the senior executives went to private school.
  • Similarly, in the media industry, 57.1% of Chairs and CEOs went to private school and 42.9% went to just one university, Cambridge.

Dawn Milman-Hurst commented: “It is perhaps surprising that banking is one of the sectors that seems to be doing best at ensuring that class and educational background do not stop people from progressing in their careers. However, media firms and companies in the oil and gas sector clearly need to do more to address the imbalance at the top.

“Diversity brings numerous commercial benefits. It helps companies enhance creativity and innovation, and increase sales through developing products and services that appeal to a wider demographic. It can lead to lower recruitment costs and a decline in staff turnover and absenteeism by increasing staff morale. As the most visible figureheads of companies, and leaders of the Board and management team, Chairs and CEOs have a key role to play in this.

“Looking at previous studies on similar themes it seems that we’re on the right path – the proportion of CEOs who were privately educated seems to be falling. But progress is slow and we’re not seeing the results come fast enough. Companies need to make changes now and put diversity higher up the agenda.”

Equal Approach has three key recommendations for companies to demonstrate they are committed to diversity:

  • Make a public commitment to recognise the value of diversity and change behaviour.
  • Ensure recruitment methods expose all roles to diverse pools of talent, rather than filling vacancies through networking or personal recommendation.
  • Encourage state-schooled top executives to be loud and proud about their beginnings to inspire younger generations, and to proactively mentor and coach future leaders.

A copy of the report can be obtained at