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Ethnic and LGBTQ+ representation in UK leadership soars

Ethnic representation on leadership teams rose from 59% to 81% between May 2022 and 2023, while the number of companies with LGBTQ+ leadership has risen from 34% to 56% in the same time period, according to a study from diversity accelerator DIAL global.

The report, which looks at 87 UK companies including Barclays, KPMG, and Royal Mail, found 78% of businesses have initiatives for increasing ethnic diversity in leadership, up from 61% last year.  

Meanwhile, 66% of companies said a member of their leadership team acts as an executive sponsor for a LGBTQ+ employee network, compared to 53% in 2022. 

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Leila McKenzie-Delis, founder of DIAL Global said ethnic diversity has improved partly due to new guidance from the government. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “This trend is also apparent in the Parker Review where there has been a sizable improvement in top jobs of the biggest companies.  

“This is likely because the government has published ‘guidance’ on closing the ethnic minority gap, which companies are taking to mean it will eventually turn into law similar to the gender gap.  

“So I think forward-thinking companies just want to be ahead of the curve.”  

LGBT+ employees may feel more comfortable coming out at work, contributing to improved representation data, according to McKenzie-Delis. 

She said: “I think the increase for LGBT+ representation is more related to employees feeling more comfortable around sharing their stories and their authentic selves.  

“Stated representation has likely been under-reported previously.  

“That said, we are seeing a push for companies to do more story-telling and use senior leaders as those role model voices, actively demonstrating an open and inclusive culture.”  

Most businesses in the study said they monitor data on the ethnicity (83%) and sexuality (58%) of their leadership team.  

Down from 47% last year, 43% ask their employees if they identify as transgender. 

Hannah Sanford, head of people and wellbeing at data platform Qudo, said HR leaders should continue to collect and monitor diversity figures. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “It’s vital to conduct regular diversity audits to assess progress, identify areas for improvement and ensure that diversity goals are met. 

"HR leaders should set specific and measurable goals for diversity and representation in leadership positions, integrating them into performance evaluations and compensation systems to emphasise their importance." 

Gender parity at a senior level has stalled, with only 34% of companies saying they have equal representation in leadership teams.  

However, 82% are including gender diversity in their succession planning, up from 76% last year. 

McKenzie-Delis said many companies need to consider the wider societal issues that stop many women from reaching top jobs. 

She said: “Many companies have set themselves long-term targets on gender but there is also something here about addressing the reasons women leave the corporate world, often in the height of their careers. 

“That can be due to things like perimenopause and menopause making them feel like they are no longer able to do the job and losing self-confidence.  

“For many women there is also the double burden of caring responsibilities from children and elderly parents.  

“Too often these roles still fall on women.  

“Unless we address these issues and support women where they are at any life stage we won’t make the progress here we need.”