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Boardroom diversity declines in top UK companies, despite positive ESG progress

The findings of the Spencer Stuart 2023 UK Board Index are concerning. It is disheartening to see a significant decline in the proportion of first-time, female, and minority ethnic candidates appointed as non-executive directors in the UK's largest listed companies. This decrease in diversity is particularly troubling given the importance of diverse perspectives in decision-making processes.

It is understandable that companies may prioritise hiring individuals with prior experience during times of uncertainty. However, it is crucial that diversity, in terms of gender, ethnicity, and fresh perspectives, does not take a back seat. Embracing diversity can bring numerous benefits, including a reduced risk of groupthink and a more nuanced understanding of complex events.

On a positive note, I am encouraged by the increasing representation of women in environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) boards. The fact that 78 percent of ESG chairs are women is a step in the right direction. This demonstrates that progress is being made in certain areas, and it is essential to build on this momentum.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that there has been progress towards achieving the FTSE Women Leaders Review and the Financial Conduct Authority's target of having 40 percent women on boards. The fact that 60 percent of boards now have at least one woman in leadership positions shows that companies are taking steps towards greater gender diversity.

However, it is crucial that this progress is not limited to gender diversity alone. Achieving true diversity requires a collective societal effort, with investors and executive committees actively expecting diversity from their boards. By embracing diversity in all its forms, companies can enhance their ability to navigate complex challenges and make well-informed decisions.

While there are positive developments in certain areas, it is clear that more needs to be done to address the decline in boardroom diversity. Companies must prioritise diversity and inclusion as fundamental principles of good governance. By doing so, they can unlock the full potential of diverse perspectives and contribute to a more inclusive and successful business landscape.

How we can help

Irwin Mitchell is the leading expert on diversity and inclusion in the workplace and provides a bespoke diversity and inclusion solution for businesses.

Our D&I solution is made up of:

  1. A D&I assessment to understand what you have already done and what your next steps will look like.
  2. Advisory support to help you implement a plan and manage the complexities of a diverse business.
  3. Training to create a safer, more productive environment for all colleagues including our new eLearning modules.

If you'd like to know more, please visit our website