5 June, 2019

The Retail Leadership 700

A review of the diversity composition of leading retail Boards across the UK, US and mainland Europe, The Retail Leadership 700 suggests that if retailers fail to address their diversity deficit, they risk suffering a downturn in productivity and profit.

Authored by Green Park and global law firm DLA Piper and launched in association with the World Retail Congress, The Retail Leadership 700, reveals: 

  • White males dominate senior leadership positions at the 30 biggest retail brands in the UK, US and mainland Europe. Amongst almost 700 positions, white men hold 67% of the total roles in the US and 72% in both the UK and Europe.
  • Women and ethnic minorities are more likely to be NEDs than Executive Directors who have the real power to run the company. There are just 70 female executive directors and 17 BAME executive directors out of a total of 337 across all the UK, US and Europe.
  • BAME individuals make up just 3% of the leadership at UK retailers, 13% at US and 1% at European companies.
  • Women make up just 26% of US, 27% UK and 27% of European leaders
  • Main Boards of Directors are more diverse than Executive Committees: BAME individuals make up 8% of Boards but only 5% of Executive Committees. Women make up 32% of Main Boards but only 21% of Executive Committees.
  • US companies have more ethnically diverse Executive Committees and Main Boards than in the UK and Europe, but are still not representative of the population as a whole.
  • By the middle of the century, retail leadership could find itself totally at odds with its consumer base. Without radical change, by 2050, UK boards will be just 15% as diverse their customers; the US’s leaders will do better - 35% as diverse as their customers.

Our analysis shows that in all three of the global jurisdictions we studied - Europe, the US and the UK - leadership is nowhere near as diverse as it could be, with consequent risks for reputation and delivery.

As the retail consumer landscape evolves, diverse communities represent a larger and more important part of total buying power. There is huge competition for customers and market share, which means the leadership teams that set direction and strategy for retail brands need to understand the widest possible patterns of buying behaviours and motivations.

A changing consumer and retail environment combined with greater regulation and activism in matters of social and political importance proves there is a strong business, moral and regulatory case for greater diversity at senior leadership. There is also a body of literature and commentary relating to the benefits of diversity. For example, a recent study published in the Harvard Business Review, which looked at product innovation and revenues in 1700 companies across the world, found ‘a statistically significant relationship between diversity and innovation outcomes in all countries examined’.

Studies like these and McKinsey’s influential ‘Why Diversity Matters’ and ‘Delivering Through Diversity’ have helped to fuel shareholder activism. As we have written before shareholders and fund managers impatient for organisations to reap the diversity dividend are calling for change and voting with their feet when companies fail to act. 

In order to understand how the biggest retailers have responded to these cultural and business imperatives, Green Park, DLA Piper and the World Retail Congress have come together to analyse the gender and ethnocultural composition of the world’s leading  retailers’ Main Boards and Executive Committees

Steve Baggi

Written By

Steve Baggi


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