What is the ethical issue?

Equality and non-discrimination in the workplace are important ethical issues for companies as well as being required by UK law. Companies that are committed to diversity are making an ethical undertaking to recruit and treat employees fairly and without discrimination.

In the boardroom, in particular, diversity sets a leadership example and sends a powerful signal to all employees about the company’s approach to equal opportunities. Boardroom diversity remains a sticking point in business, as the percentage of women in the boardroom is barely increasing, and similar trends exist for those from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME), and disabled backgrounds among others. Organisations are also struggling to understand the nuances of of intersectionality, as they grapple with how to establish mechanisms which provide opportunities for progression and success for those who do not typically populate the boardroom.

Recent figures published by Cranfield School of Management show that in the UK over half of FTSE 250 boards have no women board members at all. The lack of diversity on boards runs the risk of generating ‘groupthink’ and increases the likelihood of placing the organisation in a position where it has an inferior understanding of risks and opportunities. A lack of boardroom diversity perpetuates the perception of a traditional male cultural environment, an ‘old boys network’ and the lack of opportunities for employees of more diverse backgrounds.

More broadly, recruitment poses an issue, with positive discrimination gaining traction in both the workplace and the press. Although companies may oppose hiring an individual on the pure basis of their characteristics, it is important to recognise the value in the new perspectives and approaches to the business that an individual’s characteristics can bring, which may ultimately improve the organisation. Additionally, when judging the differing skills and levels of experience possessed by candidates, businesses may consider the contextual factors which have contributed to disparities in experience and skill.


IBE Guidance

A summary of good practice
  • Organisations should recognise that having an inclusive and respectful environment that values and promotes diversity provides an opportunity for the organisation and each individual to achieve their full potential.
  • By creating an open and respectful atmosphere where everyone can thrive, diversity at all levels of an organisation can contribute to a embedding a strong ethical culture. In addition to mentoring and talent management, diversity training can help to build an inclusive culture and promote opportunities for all employees to fulfil their leadership potential, regardless of background, gender, religion or race.
  • Possible methods of improving corporate practice and diversity measures include visible monitoring by the CEO and executive team of progress of diversity programmes, skill-building programmes aimed at specific groups and encouragement or mandates for senior executives to mentor junior staff from diverse backgrounds.
  • Additionally, organisations can adopt the Voluntary Code for Executive Search Firms, encouraging headhunters to widen their search criteria and produce a more diverse list of candidates. The new UK Corporate Governance Code also attempts to remedy the UK situation in boardrooms, stating that the ‘search for board candidates should be conducted, and appointments made, on merit, against objective criteria and with due regard for the benefits of diversity on the board, including gender.’


Essential resources

Further resources


Is your business ethical - and do your stakeholders think so?

Listen in as Survey Director, Christopher Cowton shares his thoughts on our latest survey, IBE Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2022.

30 June 2022

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2022

Businesses and UK politicians must do better at demonstrating their ethical credentials if they are to win back the confidence of the British public - the 2022 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics.

29 June 2022


The Power of Trust

View our latest webinar recording.

27 June 2022


Diversity is only the ethical thing to do if you hire people for what they can bring not who they are

If diversity really is the Right Thing To Do, then why aren’t companies making more actual progress?

06 April 2022

Publication type: Other

Recent Surveys on Business Ethics

Read the IBE's summary of the latest surveys on business ethics.

01 February 2022

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2021

This resource presents an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses, as well as the positive business ethics stories, that the IBE recorded for its media monitoring exercise in 2021. It provides an analysis of the year’s trends and the issues and sectors that featured most frequently.

24 January 2022


Employees’ voices: a glass half full

The results of our latest Ethics at Work survey bring us some good news, but also some red flags that cannot be ignored as organisations shape their ethical agenda for the future.

08 December 2021


Hugh Kay Lecture: Diversity is just a ticket to the game. The goal is inclusion

View our recording.

18 November 2021


The right question

Read the latest blog by Mark Chambers, IBE's Associate Director (Governance).

10 November 2021

IBE news

Institute of Business Ethics research suggests companies need to do more to embed ethical behaviour

04 November 2021

Publication type: Survey

Ethics at Work: 2021 International Survey of Employees

This survey is the only one of its kind, covering 13 countries over four continents, that provides real insight into employees’ views on ethics across all sectors and job roles.

04 November 2021


Every crisis is an opportunity

Read our latest guest blog by Sally March, Jane Mitchell, Robert Smith and Ruth Steinholtz.

13 October 2021


Diversity and Inclusion - the Foxtons Story

View the recording of our webinar.

21 June 2021

Publication type: Board briefing

The Ethics of Diversity board briefing

This board briefing presents a summary of the key conclusions and recommendations of the IBE’s recent report on ethics and the diversity of boards.

14 April 2021


Building Back – Ethically

Dr Ian Peters' article for One magazine on culture and reputational challenges for all organisations. Putting values at the heart of purpose.

25 March 2021


Attitudes. Ethics. Trust.

In this blog, Guendalina Donde, IBE's Head of Research, discusses the results of the 2020 Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics survey.

13 January 2021

Publication type: Survey

Attitudes of the British Public to Business Ethics 2020

The 2020 results of the IBE's annual survey of the attitudes of the British public to business ethics.

30 December 2020


The Lessons of 2020

To end 2020, IBE's Director, Ian Peters, reflects on the lessons learnt and looks ahead to 2021.

23 December 2020

Publication type: Business ethics briefing

Business Ethics in the News 2020

This briefing provides an overview of the ethical concerns and lapses that were recorded by the IBE in its monitoring of media coverage in 2020.

23 December 2020

Publication type: Report

The Ethics of Diversity

An important report on diversity, groupthink and the need for fresh thinking and wider life experience on boards.

17 December 2020

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