UK companies making “positive steps” on diversity, but new study finds that gender parity has stalled and age, sexual orientation and socio-economic status are lagging, writes DIAL Global.

A new study has found that many of the UK’s largest companies have increased their focus on diversity and inclusion, but factors such as age, socio-economic status and sexual orientation are still lagging behind, and progress has stalled on gender parity.

Companies including Alfa, Barclays, Britvic, Havas, KPMG, Lexis Nexis Risk Solutions, Pfizer, Royal Mail, Xpert HR, Verizon, and Yahoo took part in The DIAL Global Diversity Review 2023 – an annual study of diversity, inclusion, belonging and equity (DIBE) in large UK companies.

Lots of progress but still more to do

The report highlighted positive progress in lots of areas, with 84% of participating companies now having a Chief Diversity Officer or equivalent role in place, and a significant increase in the number of companies with at least one member of their senior leadership team classed as being from an ethnic minority background. But when there is representation at the top, on average it is still a 1:4 split of ethnic minority leaders to white leaders.

Mental health, religion and nationality topped a list of 10 different diversity facets most companies excel on, with plenty of attention on different policies and initiatives to put DIBE at the heart of UK business strategy.

Gender parity has stalled at senior levels

However, gender parity at a senior level has stalled, with only 34% of companies saying they have 50/50 representation at the top. And when women make it to the senior leadership level or to a Board of Directors, on average they are still in the minority with only 2 out of 5 members being female.

Age, sex and status are the new barriers

Age, socio-economic status and sexual orientation came bottom of the list. The same survey in 2022 also placed these three facets last, and while there have been improvements for all three, this suggests that not enough progress is being made on these specific factors to “level the playing field”.

A total of 87 UK companies from the private and public sectors were involved in this year’s study, including many from the FTSE 500.

The report found that just 58% of participating UK companies had LGBTQ+ representation on their leadership team, although this was up from 35% in 2022. The same number said they have approved an LGBTQ+ strategy in the past 12 months.

Improving outcomes with outreach

Seven in nine (78%) of participating companies said they have specific outreach programmes to target candidates from schools in lower socio-economic areas or socio-economic backgrounds. Although less than half (49%) said they collect and monitor data on the socio-economic background of their workforce.

The study also found that 73% of businesses had specific measures in place to reduce age bias in recruitment, but less than 1 in 3 (32%) actually provide training geared towards older workers.

Leila McKenzie-Delis, CEO of DIAL Global, said: “This year’s review showed some promising improvements that UK businesses are making progress in DIBE, which we are delighted to see. However, when looking closely at each of the ten facets, you can see this effort is not being distributed equally.

“Businesses are recognising now that tracking and measuring DIBE seriously ensures a more successful business performance, whilst also allowing them to see their reputation amongst current and prospective employees, customers and shareholders improve.

“Whilst we can celebrate where progress is being made, the report shows us that the attention is not distributed equally in terms of demographic differences and so, we need to ensure groups of people are not being left behind.

“We need to see more organisations moving the dial on all facets of DIBE, which is an ongoing challenge, but one we should continue to push forward if we are to truly level the playing field.”

The annual review – conducted in collaboration with Qualtrics – measures 10 facets of workplace diversity and inclusion beyond gender and ethnicity, helping companies assess sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, nationality, socio-economic status, mental health and wellbeing, and parenthood.

First launched in 2020, this year’s review shows many companies are now actively tracking their progress to demonstrate if they’re embedding change and improvements are being made.

Mental health and wellbeing was ranked the top facet, with the survey finding eight in nine businesses had a relevant strategy in place, and 93% were keen to support employees with access to quality care.

Religious tolerance ranked second in the list with near-universal agreement that companies allow employees to take time off for religious holidays and holy days (94%), whilst also allowing the wearing of religious symbols and clothing (90%), and allowing free discussions about religion and belief in the workplace (88%).

Under the facet of Nationality, 90% of companies promote the benefits of a culturally diverse workforce and three in four (74%) offer inclusivity training on how to work in a culturally diverse workplace.

Jon Holt, Chief Executive of KPMG in the UK, said: “We are committed to making KPMG a place where there’s no limit to where your talent, achievement and hard work can take you. Building an inclusive and diverse workforce is not only the right thing to do, it delivers better outcomes for clients, communities and colleagues.

“We have a longstanding focus on social mobility, from our work to raise skills and aspirations in local communities, to challenging our own recruitment and promotion processes. We were proud to be one of the first businesses to publish our socio-economic background pay gaps, while also setting ambitious socio-economic background representation targets for leaders.

“Last year we went further, publishing the largest analysis of career progression by a business, which found that social class is the biggest barrier to career progression, compared to any other diversity characteristic. The pioneering study reinforced why we, and every UK business, cannot afford to overlook socio-economic background in our mission.

“There’s still a long way to go. That’s why it’s so important for businesses to work together, share best practice and encourage others to join the conversation.”

Josh Partridge, Head of EMEA, Yahoo, added this around Yahoo’s focus on working parents: “Providing an excellent working environment and culture for our working parents and carers ensures we retain our top talent and has been key in attracting new talent into our company. I am proud of our company’s commitment to continuing to improve in these policies and put people at the centre of every decision we make.

Ray Dempsey, Group Chief Diversity Officer at Barclays, had this to say about his company’s commitment to social mobility: “Barclays has long supported social mobility through its policies, and has now added this as a key pillar in our DEI strategy. With a renewed focus, we are now more able to see and support talent living and flourishing everywhere, not only within the elite institutions such as those part of the Russell Group.”

The report concluded that DIBE is clearly rising up the business agenda – but it is important that work continues and expands.

It made various recommendations to businesses under each of the ten facets – on best practices and how to strengthen diversity in the workforce.


About DIAL Global

DIAL Global is a company that helps businesses unlock commercial value that can come from more diverse and inclusive workforces (Diverse, Inclusive, Aspirational Leaders). Founded by Leila McKenzie-Delis, its sole purpose is to foster a more open, diverse and inclusive society by helping organisations to think differently about their working culture, recruitment, attitudes and understanding of diversity in all its forms.