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New FTSE All-Share data indicates executive boards are stifled by ‘lack of ethnic diversity, lived experience and viewpoint’



The findings of a new study into the diversity of FTSE All-Share executive board members has spurred a leadership expert to speak out and urge companies to ‘stop repeatedly drawing talent from the same pool’. 


The study by Women on Boards UK of over 1,000 companies in the FTSE All-Share and AIM listings, found a ‘very limited range of skills and expertise’, which calls into question the diversity of thought in boardrooms. They also found that only 10% of executive board director roles were held by women.

Judith Germain, leadership expert and Principal Consultant at the Maverick Paradox comments on this concerning data:

‘‘The problem we are seeing here is a result of companies repeatedly drawing talent from the same pool. This means they are going to keep seeing the same perspectives and achieving the same results. There is then very little room for change and innovation. For example, there is a clear lack of black women as executive board members. This creates a large gap not only in diversity of ethnicity but also in lived experience and viewpoint.’’ 

Drawing on her leadership expertise, Judith has provided 5 tips for organisations to increase diversity of thought and broaden perspectives heard in the executive boardroom.

  1. Broaden your desired expertise, change the status quo

When leaders prioritise certain skills and qualifications, this can result in a very narrow breadth of expertise amongst board members. The report found that the executive board members who are not CEO, CFO or Company Secretary are a very small group of individuals in FTSE All- Share firms. This means that there is a very minimal range in skill, experience and perspectives across boards. 

Appointing board members from outside these three key roles will help leaders expand the skill sets within boardrooms, and also create more accessible opportunities for exceptional employees. To do this, desired skills, qualifications and job roles need to be broadened. 

  • Recognise the gaps in your executive boardroom

Another key step is assessing the general diversity in your boardroom. You may feel that your diversity efforts are strong because your senior leadership team is not all white men, for example. But then ask yourself, are there any women? Are there any women of colour? What socio-economic background are they from? 

Asking yourself these questions will help assess how many of the same perspectives you are hearing and where the noticeable gaps are.  If everyone in the executive boardroom looks pretty much the same, why is this?

Having very narrow requirements for senior staff achieving executive boardroom positions is likely the culprit for a lack of diversity both in skill and background. 

Addressing this acts as the foundation for real change, and will encourage a much more representative and productive boardroom. 

  • Consider the specific barriers faced by minority employees

Equity is a key consideration as a leader, and leaders have a responsibility to recognise that not everyone is playing on an even field. When encouraging employees to apply for promotions it is easy to think that anyone can apply if they want to. But remember, not everyone will have the same confidence to apply due to their lived experience. Not all employees will have the same professional experience or training due to facing specific barriers. Leaders must ensure that this is recognised and addressed to support those facing additional barriers and ensure they are not missing out on opportunities that will help them progress into senior roles.

Recognising this and taking action will help in the creation of a culture of safety and belongingness for everyone. As a result, engagement and retention will be maximised and ambition from all employees within the company will be fuelled. This culture shift will in turn help change who we are seeing in boardrooms. 

  • Carry out your own learning

There is always room for leaders and senior team members to educate themselves to lead more effectively and help their organisations thrive. Admitting there are gaps in your knowledge and understanding is an important part of being an effective leader. 

Learning from a range of employees from different backgrounds, both personally and professionally,  will help diversify leaders’ thinking as well as assist in creating specific support for particular groups of employees. This collaborative effort will help leaders with understanding, and also create cultural change at a foundational level. 

  • Don’t be afraid to challenge organisational norms 

The most exceptional and successful leaders are usually those who are drivers for change, and confident in their ability to challenge organisational norms. We are living in a constantly changing world, and it is important that our leaders are keeping organisational culture up to date with this. If the requirements for board members have been the same for the last 25 years in your organisation, challenging this can feel daunting. Don’t let it. Part of being an influential leader is recognising the pitfalls of previous decision makers and policy. 

Make the changes that they were afraid to make. 

Judith notes that ‘‘real leadership development is needed at senior levels so there is more diverse talent to draw from. This includes external mentoring, cultural diversity training and key leadership skills. This will create the change we need to see in order to broaden perspectives at the top.’’’ 

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