Leadership + Culture = Impact

Do UK business leaders have the skills they need to pivot their organizations to a more sustainable—and profitable—future?


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Achieving authentic and lasting progress on sustainability is first and foremost a matter of leadership. Stakeholders must be able to trust that leaders have the imagination to seek a different path, the courage to overcome challenges and the humility to bring others along on their sustainability journey. 

Unfortunately, only around a third of UK employees think their senior leaders show inclusivity (34%), authenticity (30%), or hopefulness (30%). Even fewer report that their senior leaders display purposefulness, humility or empathy, or lead by example. This is unlikely to simply be a problem of perception—even respondents who are part of senior leadership do not typically see these attributes in their senior executives.

Which of the following attributes would you say the senior-most leaders in your organization display? (UK)

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Leaders also need to create a culture of sustainability, aligning the entire organization around a compelling value system that emphasizes purpose, DE&I and transparency. Our research indicates that UK organizations still have work to do to achieve this goal—slow-changing company culture was cited as the top barrier to sustainability action, followed by organizational complexity/bureaucracy.

What are the greatest challenges/barriers faced by leaders to embedding sustainability in your organization's business strategy? (UK)

Percent of C-suite leaders selecting each item

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Overall, the UK has made progress on DE&I. Government and industry efforts such as Gender Pay Gap reporting, the Parker Review and Change the Race Ratio campaign appear to be helping companies turn DE&I intent into action, intensifying efforts to improve racial, ethnic and gender representation within their top teams and broader workforces. As of March 2021, 74 FTSE 100 companies had at least one director from a minority ethnic group on their board—up from 52 in January 2020.

Yet C-suite leaders remain clear-eyed that challenges remain: 44% say senior leaders at their company show favoritism to those who are like themselves. Around half also believe that gender and racial biases influence promotion decisions. Interestingly, employees are less likely to perceive these issues.

Perceptions of DE&I challenges 

Percent agreeing with each item


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To make further progress, leaders must push hard to set—and deliver against—meaningful, measurable and consistent DE&I goals. It is not enough to talk the talk on DE&I. Leaders must also walk the walk. The risks of inaction are significant.



Action Items

  • Take a candid view of your executive team’s and board’s perceptions of sustainability. Identify issues that may contribute to an unwillingness or inability to make it a core strategic objective (e.g. misaligned incentives, lack of resourcing or lack of capability).

  • Evaluate the capability of your executive team and board—do leaders have the soft skills needed to manage diverse stakeholders, bridge divides between groups and motivate employees to engage in a change journey?

  • Understand what elements of company culture and organizational operating habits may hinder change and innovation around sustainability (e.g. bureaucracy, deference to hierarchy or risk-aversion).

  • Push hard on DE&I, with a specific focus on defining concrete actions (not just goals) for improving diversity at senior levels within the organization.

Ready to get Started?

We look forward to connecting with you on sustainable leadership.