Only 8% of WPP’s most senior leaders in the UK are from a non-white background

WPP reveals the breakdown of its staff's ethnicity, gender and age.

WPP: global HQ is at London's Sea Containers House
WPP: global HQ is at London's Sea Containers House

WPP has revealed that 8% of its most senior UK staff are from a BAME background as it vows to spend $30m (£21.6m) over the next three years on inclusion programmes. 

The largest holding company unveiled its diversity statistics across ethnicity, gender and age in its annual Sustainability report, which has just been released. 


WPP’s data broke down its ethnic representation across four levels of seniority: board members or executive leaders, senior managers, other employees and all staff. These classifications match the way employees are categorised in its finance system. 

The figures cover 90% of its workforce in 2020, who disclosed their ethnicity on a confidential basis. They categorised themselves in six ways: black, Asian, mixed, other ethnic, white, and “unknown or undisclosed”. The data captures employee headcount on a full-time equivalent basis. 

At the most senior level, “board members or executive leaders”, 0.8% of employees are black, 3.8% Asian, 2.1% mixed, 1.3% other ethnic, (8% BAME in total), 87.2% white and 4.8% unknown/undisclosed.

At the next tier down, “senior managers”, these figures were 2.4% black, 5.8% Asian, 2.6% mixed, 2.6% other ethnic, (13.4% BAME in total), 79.5% white and 7.1% unknown/undisclosed. 

The “other employees” category was 4.7% black, 9.1% Asian, 2.8% mixed, 4.7% other ethnic, (21.3% BAME in total), 69.2% white and 9.5% unknown/undisclosed. 

This makes the totals across all its staff: 71.9% white, 4.1% black, 8.2% Asian, 2.8% mixed, 4.2% other ethnic (19.3% BAME in total) and 8.8% unknown/undisclosed.

WPP’s 8% BAME representation among senior leaders compares with an average of 11% in Campaign’s School Reports agencies, although the definitions of senior may vary across the two data sets. It is also lower than the IPA’s target of 15% BAME in senior leadership (defined as CEO, chair, MD and other executive management). But the percentage of BAME staff in its overall staff numbers (19.3%) is higher than Campaign’s School Reports sample at 15.5%. 

In the report, WPP wrote: “The story our data tells is clear: we still have a huge amount of work to do.” It detailed its initiatives to increase the ethnic diversity of its workforce (see details below), adding: “We view this work as a moral and business imperative.”

To boost its senior ethnic representation, WPP has launched a series of initiatives. The first is to include diversity, equity and inclusion goals in the annual bonus plans of its leadership, starting from this year. It has grown its network of DE&I leaders across its agencies. All staff are undertaking bespoke, mandatory inclusion and unconscious bias training. HR teams have received - and will continue to receive - training on anti-bias ad training “to help them have difficult conversations about race in the workplace”.

It is running NextGen Leaders, a virtual learning series for college students and recent graduates, it has a cross-agency sponsorship programme to help high-performing mid-career people from underrepresented ethnic groups to help unlock opportunities, fill experience gaps, and build advanced craft skills through a relationship with senior leaders. It has launched a three-month individualised coaching programme for mid-level employees, with initial focus on black and other underrepresented ethnic groups in the UK. 


The company’s gender stats are encouraging, with women accounting for 51% of senior managers (up by 1% since 2019). The proportion of women in executive leadership roles has increased to 40% (up from 37% the previous year) and at board level, the proportion of women is 43%, compared with 40% in 2019. The IPA’s diversity targets set out in 2016 called for women to hold 40% of senior positions by 2020, something WPP has achieved - though figures across the industry as a whole have seen this figure fall from 34% in 2019 to 32% in 2020. 

WPP is ranked 10th by the Hampton-Alexander Review’s FTSE 100 ranking for women on boards and it has been included as an industry leader in the Bloomberg Gender Equality Index for the third year in a row. Its UK gender pay gap narrowed between 2019-2020, but in its report it noted: “For as long as there is any gap, we cannot be satisfied.” 


In terms of age diversity, the largest demographic consists of employees in the 30- to 39-year-old age group, at 39%. A third (34%) are 20- to 29-year-olds. Individuals aged 40-49 make up 18% of the WPP workforce, with 7% aged between 50-59. Just 2% of staff are aged 60 and over, and there are no employees aged 19 or under. 

These figures match findings from the IPA Census published in March, which found that the numbers of employees aged under 25 and over 60 have declined - in part due to the pandemic. The study found the average employee age in a media agency is 32 years, compared with an average of 36.4 years in creative and other non-media agencies.