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Retailers must do more on diversity and inclusion among top executives, says report
14 June 2023

UK retailers must translate efforts to bolster diversity and inclusion among its top executives into meaningful change, according to a new report.

Researchers from the British Retail Consortium trade body and the MBS Group advisory firm analysed the performance of 200 industry-leading businesses, with a focus on the highest leadership levels, including board and executive committees.

They said the report aims to drive change in the industry by tracking progress made so far on gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, social mobility and age in the workplace.

Elliott Goldstein, managing partner at the MBS Group, told reporters there is “a long way to go until retail leadership properly reflects the customers it serves”.

Findings show that while 93% of retailers have implemented a strategy to improve diversity and inclusion across their business, some 66% have no specific targets to track their progress.

While ethnic diversity representation on boards has improved by five percentage points to 10% since 2021, 30% of retail boards remain all-white, compared to 4% in the FTSE 100.

It comes after the latest census data from 2021 shows 18.3% of England’s population does not identify as white.

Elsewhere, the research found gender diversity on boards has improved by more than five percentage points since 2021 to 37.8%, but the sector is still below the FTSE 350 benchmark of 40%.

Meanwhile, it found only 17% of retailers are able to identify one disabled leader in the most senior levels of their organisation.

The analysis does show improvement in LGBT+ representation, with two-thirds of businesses aware of at least one senior leader from the community, compared with 47% in 2022 and 27% in 2021.

Meanwhile, 75% of retailers could identify at least one senior leader who demonstrates social mobility, up from 59% in 2022 and 20% in 2021.

Goldstein said almost every business the researchers spoke to were “very open” to discussing their progress, which marks an “absolute sea-change” to when they first began the research in 2021.

“On the one hand, you’ve got this great intent, but on the other hand we’re probably not yet seeing it translate into the types of progress that we, the BRC and the wider retail community would like to see,” he said.

“Where there’s a frustration is where the retailers haven’t over many decades prioritised this as a top action point,” he added.

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s commercially the right thing to do. The two together should make it the top of any chair or CEO’s agenda.”

Researchers identified a lack of data, insufficient resources and potential backlash from employees as barriers for businesses to improve their diversity and inclusion performance.

They said the most effective measures retailers are using to tackle these barriers include forming measures like employee resource groups, the appointment of D&I leaders, investment in training for senior leaders and greater focus on driving up data collection efforts.

They also said more could be done to build diverse talent pipelines, including target-setting to drive up representation in specific areas of the business.

Helen Dickinson, CEO of the British Retail Consortium, said while she is “encouraged” to see so many retailers gearing up their D&I activity”, the progress made so far “hasn’t sufficiently shifted the dial”.

“I know this will take time, but, equally, we must not rest on our laurels,” she said.

“While the will is there, until every individual – no matter their background – feels they can reach their true potential in the workplace, we are failing.”

She also told reporters that businesses should now be tracking the progress and impact of their D&I initiatives instead of bringing in a whole range of measures that are just “ticking a lot of boxes”.

“We need to continually assess if what we’re doing is working, and if it’s not, what else can be done. Nonetheless, I am confident that we can deliver the change we aspire for, and I am excited to see the industry rise to the challenge,” she added.

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