In this case study, Director of People Services at the City of Westminster, Lee Witham, discussed ‘The Westminster Way’ initiative, aimed at reducing the disparities experienced by female and ethnic minority employees.

In 2018, it was made a legal requirement for UK employers to publish and submit a yearly Pay Gap report. Following this mandate, Westminster City Council looked to increase transparency and improve diversity and representation within their organisation.

Key Findings

  • In 2018, the Westminster council reported significant pay gaps of between 10-18% for women and ethnic minority employees respectively
  • By 2019, the council has increased ethnic minority leadership representation by 10%, as well as the number of women among their highest-paid employees
  • Future aims are to increase the collection of qualitative data and improve positive action methods to source more diverse talent

The Challenge

The City of Westminster is a hub for diversity: home to 250,000 residents, made up of 180 nationalities and speaking over 150 languages. However, upon publishing their Pay Gap Report in 2019 [1], the council discovered that their workforce was not reflective of the community they serve. Under the leadership of the new Chief Executive, Stuart Love, they began to address the areas for improvement.

The council’s report found that their organisation was lacking diversity at all levels, contributing to considerable pay gaps and slower progression for female and ethnic minority employees.

Across their workforce, 54% of employees identified as white, 28% as BAME and 18% didn’t disclose. Ethnic diversity was significantly disproportionate across the ranks and an absent willingness to disclose ethnic information flagged further concerns. While the organisation comprised of 58% female employees, only 30% of roles across senior management were filled by women and only 5% by people of an ethnic minority. Female and ethnic minority candidates also suffered a considerable pay gap, seeing women suffer a 10% cut compared to their male counterparts and BAME employees an even larger imbalance of 18%.

In light of these concerns, Stuart Love declared a dedicated commitment to change, starting with being open and transparent with the issues they faced:

“We recognise that Westminster City Council has not provided a level playing field for all staff. Our culture has not always been inclusive, nor has our workforce been reflective of the communities we serve. This is completely unacceptable and, as chief executive, I am both responsible for addressing this and determined to put it right.”

Stuart Love, Chief Executive of Westminster City Council

The Solution

Westminster City Council knew that a comprehensive strategy was necessary for addressing their concerns. This led to the introduction of their new people strategy titled ‘The Westminster Way’.

Under this strategy were 3 pillars that would uphold the premise of their actions:

  • Personal development: Everyone has talent
  • Value our people and diversity: Everyone is valued
  • The Westminster Way of working: Everyone is a leader

The council approached the strategy with determination and acted to ensure that leaders were held to account in delivering their strategy.

Some of the implemented methods include:

  • Positive Action: ensuring all middle and senior management roles had at least one candidate from an ethnic minority background on every shortlist
  • Reverse mentoring: enabling leaders in the council to improve their cultural intelligence, with over 50 senior leaders being paired with individuals of different ages, genders and cultural backgrounds in a 360-degree mentoring relationship
  • Diverse recruitment panels: ensuring that all panels for middle and senior management roles were gender and ethnically diverse
  • Focus on equity in how staff were rewarded: continuing to recognise the achievements of staff, for example through the Westminster Way staff awards and in sharing stories that inspired others
  • Recruitment partners: signing up to Business in the Community’s Race at Work Charter, the industry standard to achieve good race relations at work. Includes appointing a champion for race (the chief executive), ensuring the most up to date ethnicity data is recorded and actively supporting ethnic minority career progression

Other key inclusion and diversity focus areas included:

  • Development of staff networks: strengthening staff networks, such as The Women’s Network, and getting involved in a range of events (eg: Westminster Pride March) to celebrate the rich diversity in Westminster
  • Launching an inclusive parental leave policy: transforming maternity and shared parental leave policies,  as well as flexible working, return to work and special leave policies, ensuring they were inclusive and support staff throughout their careers
  • Introducing an innovative personal development framework for performance management: encouraging regular conversations between staff and senior managers and encouraging them to take charge of their personal development
[2] The Westminster Way

The Impact

As a result of Westminster City Council’s revised methods, diversity and inclusion within the organisation have notably improved.

Improvements for Gender

The data shows that the council’s mean gender pay gap has reduced from 8.6% in 2018 to 7% in 2019. Additionally, the proportion of women paid in the upper quartile also increased to 52% compared to 48% men. When it came to increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles, six of the ten highest-paid employees were registered as female in March 2019, compared to just two in 2017.

Improvements for Ethnicity

Similar to the trends of the gender pay gap, the ethnicity pay gap within the council also reduced. Compared to 17.7% in 2018, the gap had fallen to 15.5% in 2019, with ethnic minority candidates in leadership roles also increasing from 5% in 2016/17 to 15% at the end of 2019.

The Future

Despite evident progress since 2018, the council have outlined several areas that require further attention and yet to meet appropriate standards.

For example, when analysing the median gender pay gap, women accounted for 66% of leavers and 64% of new starters in the year. These new starters were generally paid less than the women they replaced and experienced a median pay gap of 7.5% compared to their male counterparts.

The plan for the future is to gather more qualitative data to understand why women accounted for two-thirds of the leavers in the year. This will be done through the implementation of exit interviews for female band 4–6 leavers and with organised focus groups aimed at understanding these patterns of behaviour.

Encouragingly, 2019/20 has already seen improvements in this area and the overall turnover in the organisation has fallen from 16% to 14%. The female leavers in this category have reduced from 66% to 55%. This positive change is assumed to be a result of the new family-friendly approach that has seen an improved parental leave policy, maternity pay and flexible working opportunities. Therefore, improvements are already being achieved.

Whilst the progress towards better BAME representation is underway, the Westminster council believe their positive action programme will continue bridging this gap. In fact, since the implementation in April of 2019, 46% of roles advertised have been filled by a BAME candidate. The final key focus areas for Westminster City Council over the next year will be making commitments to zero tolerance of harassment and bullying at the board level and emphasising responsibility for equality in all leaders and managers. Thus far, these areas have proved the most difficult to monitor and are being actively encouraged within future plans for The Westminster Way initiative.


[1] 2019. Gender And BAME Pay Gap Report 2019 . [online] [Accessed 19/11/21].

[2] The Westminster Way. [online] [Accessed 19/11/21].

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In this case study, Director of People Services at the City of Westminster, Lee Witham, discussed ‘The Westminster Way’ initiative, aimed at reducing the disparities experienced by female and ethnic minority employees.

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