Out of the 29.5 million working professionals in the United Kingdom, only 14% come from minority or ethnic backgrounds. This disparity is even more apparent when exploring statistics from those in high leadership positions. For years, the UK has had a lack of representation among business leaders, highlighting an underlying diversity issue that is bigger than it seems. With these figureheads shaping the workforce and influencing other economic factors, finding ways to overcome this industry barrier is integral.

If you’re interested in learning how this issue affects the British employment landscape and what the UK is doing to address it, keep reading below.

The British workforce and diversity

The United Kingdom currently ranks within the top 10 most attractive overseas locations for migrant workers. Following the new guidelines brought by Brexit and an increase in post-graduation visas offered, the UK has become one of the most accepting places for foreign employees. However, other statistics show that this growth slows down as it goes up the corporate ladder. The same trends are similarly reflected among Brit workers of non-Caucasian descent.

Looking at the hiring process, almost 7 out of 10 UK companies state they are committed to removing any biases when recruiting. As hopeful as this seems, there is, unfortunately, a lack of a standard measurement system in which these companies can track their progress on this objective. Furthermore, only 26% of these companies evaluate organisational efforts on following equality, diversity, and inclusion goals. When it comes to equal access to training and development for promotion and leadership positions, the UK falters compared to other countries.

On the board and executive committee level of these companies, only 15% of the members self-identified as coming from ethnic or minority backgrounds. Moreso, the majority of these individuals still come from privileged socio-economic environments, highlighting the unlikelihood of working-class employees reaching top positions. This contributes to another issue in which British employees feel disengaged from their work. A lack of incentives and position stagnation have left many workers dissatisfied with their jobs.

The situation may even be more challenging for some populations, such as women. Although the rates of women board members peaked at 40% for the first time in 2023, at least 10 out of the 350 most prominent companies in the UK still had all-male teams. With this in mind, there is clearly still a long way to go. Fortunately, there have been recent concrete steps toward achieving progress.

How is this matter being addressed?

In order to combat the lack of representation, many UK companies now turn to more mindful and intentional hiring. For example, many companies are choosing to use executive recruitment solutions for their workforce. This is because professional recruiters utilise executive search methodologies that can uncover top candidates with outstanding leadership skills. With their unique qualifications, these in-demand recruits often come from a diverse talent pool and have the ability to overcome barriers and work their way up the corporate ladder. This is partly why diverse companies see a 2.5x higher cash flow for each employee.

Several initiatives to encourage companies to diversify, such as an equity index for the transport sector, have also been taking off. These are surveys that ask employees about the state of equality in their workplace. Companies that rank high will be rewarded with a prestigious certificate and a marketing badge, displaying their efforts towards inclusivity. Officials are encouraging other sectors to follow suit. With such an incentive in place, many are hopeful that this will encourage more decision-makers to value diversity in the workplace.

Slow and steady changes are also happening on the board level with the help of The Parker Review. This is an independent framework centred on the diversity of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 Index, which is comprised of the biggest companies in the UK. Since the first report was published in 2016, 96 companies out of the FTSE 100 now have at least one director from a minority ethnic group.

All of these signify positive change within the British professional landscape. Although much still needs to be done, these developments are a clear step towards the right direction.


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