Ethnic diversity within senior management low on the agenda for businesses globally

Only 11% of businesses have plans in place to improve the ethnic diversity of their senior management team, according to Grant Thornton International’s Diversity Snapshot. The number of businesses that consider ethnic diversity to be important to their future business success rests at less than a third (31%).

The findings show senior management teams are ethnically diverse in only six out of 35 countries. Businesses in Africa have the highest number of ethnic groups, while those in the European Union have the lowest.

The snapshot tracks diversity across ethnicity, gender and age. It also investigates businesses’ attitudes and commitment towards these three key aspects.

The gulf between the number of businesses that say diversity is important to their business success, and those that have plans in place to address it, is disappointing given progress on diversity in senior leadership is slow. In total, 40% of businesses consider diversity to be important, but only 14% have specific plans in place to improve the diversity of their senior leadership teams.

The figures are better for gender and age than they are for ethnicity. Overall, 38% of businesses see gender diversity as important to their business success, with 14% putting plans in place to address it. A greater number of businesses (51%) consider age diversity to be important, but only 16% have plans in place to tackle it.

Missing out on opportunities

Kim Schmidt, Global leader, leadership, people and culture, at Grant Thornton International, comments: “Senior teams that continue to lack diversity are missing out on opportunities to improve their decision-making and performance. At a time when digitalisation is disrupting traditional business models, inclusive leadership teams that are willing to have their thinking and way of working challenged by a range of opinions from diverse backgrounds will be better equipped for success.”

“This is our first piece of research designed to better understand ethnic and age diversity in senior teams around the world. Levels of ethnic diversity appear to be particularly low, and more so in regions such as Europe. With only a few putting plans in place to address this situation, they are not reflecting their consumer base or the broader markets in which they operate.”

A gender diversity milestone

A gender diversity milestone was reached in 2017: one in four senior roles are now held by women. However, the past decade has seen only a 1% improvement. Grant Thornton will be investigating policies introduced by governments and businesses, and if and how these interact to create change, in its forthcoming Women in Business research.

A quarter (26%) of senior teams, globally, include an individual who is older than 64 years old, and a similar number (24%) of businesses have a senior member who is aged 35 or younger. Those in large, well-established economies – like the G7 – appear to prioritise experience over fresh talent, with fewer younger and more older members within their senior team. The opposite is true for emerging markets in Africa and Latin America.

Kim Schmidt adds: “We believe it is our collective responsibility to understand what needs to change, and how. Having spoken to diversity experts and business leaders around the world, this snapshot puts forward a series of steps for businesses to consider. Some are specific measures – such as diversity benchmarking and linking diversity and inclusion goals to key performance indicators. Others address obstacles that are in many ways intangible – like unconscious bias and some of the sensitivity surrounding how to discuss ethnicity and race. Every business operates in a slightly different context, with different levels of resource, so it’s important for business leaders to consider a range of options in partnership with their team.”

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Notes to editors:
The Grant Thornton International Business Report (IBR), launched in 1992 initially in nine European countries, now provides insight into the views and expectations of more than 10,000 businesses per year across 35 countries. More information:

Questionnaires are translated into local languages with each participating country having the option to ask a small number of country specific questions in addition to the core questionnaire. Fieldwork is undertaken on a quarterly basis, primarily by telephone. IBR is a survey of both listed and privately held businesses. The data for this release are drawn from interviews with more than 2,500 chief executive officers, managing directors, chairmen or other senior executives from all industry sectors conducted in August and September 2017.