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Gender and Black representation in the leadership of UK food & grocery retailers

About a third of the board leaders, and just under a quarter of executive leaders are women. 4% of board roles and 1% of executive leadership roles are held by Black people.

Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement dominating media headlines and boardroom conversations, here are the preliminary findings from our analysis of gender and Black representation in the board of directors and executive leadership teams of the top ten food and grocery retailers in the UK.

In 2019, the food and grocery industry in the UK was estimated to be worth over £190bn1. Over the past decade, the industry has been dominated by the ‘big four’ supermarket chains: Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons. We’ve also seen German discount brands – Aldi and Lidl – gain significant market share2.


Exhibit 1


The food and grocery industry is one of the UK’s largest private-sector employers3. Collectively these ten organisations employ close to a million people4 representing nearly 3% of the working population5, and serve just about all of the UK’s 27.8 million households6. It is, therefore, safe to assume that if there is an industry whose workforce (and leadership team) should broadly represent the population, it should be this one.

Key findings:

From the profiles analysed to date, about a third of the board of directors, and just under a quarter of the executive leaders are women.


Exhibit 2

Gender and Black representation in board of directors of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK
Gender and Black representation in board of directors of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK

Based on the profiles analysed, 4% of the board roles are 1% of executive leadership roles are held by Black people. This includes both non-executive directors (NEDs) as well as executive directors.


Exhibit 3

Gender and Black representation in executive leadership of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK
Gender and Black representation in executive leadership of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK

Black people are underrepresented in executive leadership roles in these organisations, even if unsurprisingly, the sector generally finds it beneficial to have customer-facing staff who mirror their potential customer base7.


Exhibit 4

Gender and Black representation in board and executive leadership of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK
Gender and Black representation in board and executive leadership of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK

It is worth pointing out that in the analysis, Co-op and Waitrose account for the Black representation in board and executive leadership roles, and the two organisations also have the most gender-diverse board and executive leadership profiles.


Exhibit 5

Gender and Black representation in board and executive leadership of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK
Gender and Black representation in board and executive leadership of top 10 food and grocery retailers in the UK

Perhaps it is more than just a coincidence that the two organisations have a ‘mutual-ownership’ structure, i.e. they are owned by a defined group of members such as employees or customers.

The co-op is a network of supermarkets and convenience shops owned and operated by over 15 independent member-owned co-operative societies, and Waitrose is part of the John Lewis Partnership – the UK’s largest employee-owned business.

Additionally, none of the Black people in the analysis progressed through the ranks in the retailing industry – be that food and grocery, or otherwise. Indeed, their leadership role in the food and grocery company was achieved on the back of successful careers in the civil and social sectors.

Put another way, there is not a single Black person in the analysis, who has successfully built a career in the retailing industry to take on a leadership role in a UK food and grocery retailing organisation.

While, anecdotally, it looks like gender diversity is improving – albeit slowly – the analysis highlights the pressing issue of a lack of Black representation in an industry where Black people account for an estimated £5bn of spend annually8.

It would appear that the two big challenges that women faced a few years ago – that were both determined to be absolute nonsense – are being replayed now about potential Black non-executive directors (NEDs) and executives, i.e. that there aren’t enough already “qualified”, and that there is no pipeline of talent coming through to be trained.

Methodology and data sources

The primary data sources for this analysis are company-released information like annual reports, as well as information found in company press releases, fact sheets, presentations, or on company websites.

  • For the purpose of this analysis, we have classified Black people as people with Black African, Black Caribbean or Black British ethnic heritage.
  • This analysis is focused on gender and black representation, and in line with our style guide, we have purposefully not used ‘BAME’ or BME in any part of the analysis.
  • Executive leadership comprises the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), as well as everyone that reports directly to the CEO who will typically oversee such business activities as fulfilling organisational goals, strategic planning development and overall decision making.
  • Board leadership comprises both executive and non-executive directors who are collectively responsible for directing the company’s affairs to meet the appropriate interests of its shareholders and relevant stakeholders.
  • ASDA, ALDI and LIDL are subsidiaries of foreign companies, so the analysis only considers their UK-based executive leadership teams, and excludes their board of directors.
  • Following changes to the management structure of the John Lewis Partnership announced in 2019, Waitrose is represented by a single executive leadership team which it shares with and John Lewis.
  • Revenue is the consolidated results of a retailer’s parent company arising from retail and non-retail activities in the UK, but excluding income from fuel sales and VAT.

Endnotes

  1. UK food and grocery market to grow 14.8% by £28.2bn by 2023. IGD.
  2. Grocery Market Share (12 weeks ending 12 July 2020). Kantar Worldpanel
  3. The UK’s food and grocery industry. IGD.
  4. Data from annual reports held at Companies House and other sources like company websites. It includes full-time and part-time employees.
  5. Employment in the UK: March 2020. Office for National Statistics ONS.
  6. How the UK’s just-in-time delivery model crumbled under coronavirus. wired.com
  7. ‘Snowy Peaks’:Ethnic Diversity at the Top. Runnymede Trust.
  8. Estimate of the spend by Black people assuming parity of spending across all ethnic groups in the UK population using 2019 mid-year population estimates obtained from ONS.

This study is intended to provide a snapshot of gender and Black representation in board and executive leadership roles in UK food and grocery retail organisations at a point in time based on the methodology described above. As a result, these figures for gender and Black representation may not correspond to other published results.