Progress on improving diversity and inclusion at senior levels in the UK’s retail industry is “worryingly slow”, with white men still dominating leadership roles, a report has found.
As well as the ongoing under-representation of women in top jobs, the overview of roles in the sector identified limited ethnic diversity on boards and executive committees, and a lack of black people occupying leadership positions in general.
The research published on Wednesday by the British Retail Consortium and The MBS Group revealed more than a third of retailers have either all-white boards or executive committees, with women accounting for less than 40% of all board members, executives and senior managers across the sector.
The report did show some signs of improvement since the assessment was launched in 2021, as the proportion of companies adopting a diversity and inclusion strategy increased from 76% to 91%.
Chief executives also now take the lead on diversity and inclusion strategies at three-quarters of retailers, compared to half in 2021.
However, while the proportion of women at both board and executive committee level has increased slightly since 2021, it still represents just under a third of members in both cases.
The percentage of women in senior management fell from 37% to 35% over the period.
There was also a slight increase in ethnic minority representation at retailers’ top three leadership levels, but this remains around the 10% mark
Elliott Goldstein, managing partner at The MBS Group, said the sector could be “proud” that most retailers now have diversity and inclusion strategies in place, but added progress on initiating plans was not moving fast enough.
He said: “Progress towards representation is worryingly slow, with the industry’s most senior positions still dominated by white men, and fewer women in the pipeline beneath executive committee (level).
“In our current commercial landscape, retailers must work harder to reflect the communities they serve. The time for change was yesterday.”
The report identified a number of factors driving the adoption of diversity and inclusion plans, such as increased scrutiny from consumers and staff and investment decisions driven by environmental, social and governance considerations.
But unfavourable trading conditions caused by factors including inflation, cost of living concerns, pandemic recovery and workforce shortages risk diverting corporate focus from diversity and inclusion, the report said.
BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson highlighted the commitment by nearly 80 of the UK’s largest retailers to the consortium’s diversity and inclusion charter as evidence of a desire for change across the industry.
“But the industry must double down to drive the diversity outcomes we aspire to,” she added. “We all know the challenges, we all want to act, so … we now need to mobilise and focus on delivery of outcomes.”