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Pension boards lack diversity but not the desire to improve, TPR survey shows

Ref: PN24-12

Issued: Tuesday 19 March 2024

Ground-breaking research has confirmed pension trustees are less diverse than the overall population.

Results of The Pensions Regulator’s (TPR’s) first trustee diversity and inclusion (D&I) survey, published today (Tuesday), shows the 'typical trustee' is a white man who is over 45.

Completed by 2,197 trustees, making it TPR’s largest-ever survey, the results will provide a baseline to measure progress towards ensuring high standards of diversity and inclusion on pension boards.

The results highlighted industry recognition of the importance of inclusive and diverse boards with 78% saying they felt a diverse trustee board was important. There was also broad consensus that diverse and inclusive pension boards are important for good decision-making (84%), good governance (83%) and good member outcomes (85%).

While the survey highlights the lack of trustee diversity in terms of protected or visible characteristics such as ethnicity, most trustee boards were seen as diverse in terms of skills (82%), life experience (74%), professional background (73%), cognitive diversity (73%) and education (61%).

Louise Davey, TPR’s Interim Director of Regulatory Policy, Analysis and Advice, said: “Growing evidence shows diverse and inclusive boards make more effective decisions, which is key to good governance and improving saver outcomes.

“While the profile of the ‘typical’ trustee is unlikely to be a surprise, this survey has supplied important baseline data we can use to measure progress towards more diverse and inclusive scheme boards.

“It also shows the majority of trustees recognise the importance of greater board inclusivity and diversity, although fewer than half of schemes have taken action to improve.

“We want trustees to think about diversity more widely than just through more visible characteristics and consider their boards’ skills, life experience and cognitive diversity as well.

“Those wanting to improve their scheme’s board should take advantage of our latest guidance, which provides practical ways to improve board diversity and inclusion.”

The results

According to results of a TPR survey, the 'typical' trustee is:

  1. a man
  2. cisgender (a person whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth)
  3. heterosexual
  4. white
  5. over 45
  6. without a disability
  7. either of a Christian faith or has no religion

More than half of trustees (53%) had all seven of these characteristics, the survey found.

Trustee characteristics compared with UK census data

Characteristic Trustees (%) UK population according to 2021 census data (%)
Women 24 52
Aged under 45 9 44
Disability 7 20
Ethnic minority 5 5
Non-heterosexual 3 3
Non-Christian religion/no faith 3 10
Transgender 0.3 0.5

The survey also found:

  • around one-third of trustees were retired (31%) with the rest employed, self-employed or freelance
  • more than one in 10 (11%) were born outside of the UK, with 3% reporting English as their second language
  • 3% said they were neurodivergent compared to an estimated 15% nationally
  • newer trustees were more likely to have a positive attitude towards diversity and inclusion and women were more positive than men

Despite being less diverse than the UK population, the survey found around half of those responding considered their board to be diverse in terms of gender (58%) and age (49%).

Data collection

About one-fifth of schemes (22%) collected data on the diversity of their trustees (in terms of protected characteristics). Where this was captured, it typically covered gender and age (both 20%).

Comparatively few recorded data on gender reassignment, sexual orientation or religion (between 3% and 5% for each).

Larger pension schemes showed greater engagement with diversity and inclusion, with micro schemes least likely to collect trustee diversity data. Micro schemes were also perceived to be less likely to view diversity (40%) and inclusion (47%) as important.


One-third (34%) of schemes had acted to create a more diverse trustee board and/or planned to do so in the next 12 months. The same number (34%) had taken or planned action to encourage greater inclusivity.

Overall, 43% had taken or planned action in either of these areas (with 25% doing both).

The survey found professional and corporate trustees were associated with greater action on diversity and inclusion.

For example, two-fifths of schemes with professional or corporate trustees had taken or planned action to create a more diverse board (41%) or encourage greater inclusivity (42%). This fell to 24% and 25% respectively among schemes with only non-professional trustees.

Role of the chair

Half of trustees (50%) felt the board’s chair played a key role in driving and promoting in D&I and 45% agreed the chair led progress in meeting D&I objectives.

Importantly, TPR’s analysis of the survey results shows the primary predictor in a trustee board viewing diversity as important was whether there was a chair who drove and promoted D&I.

The next most important predictor was those boards undertaking performance assessments, including how well D&I had been embedded.

The size of the scheme and having a chair that drives and promotes D&I were the two most significant predictors of whether trustee boards were taking action on diversity.

TPR’s researchers concluded there was a common theme that schemes with a chair who drives and promotes D&I were more likely to have diverse and inclusive trustee boards.

Guidance published by TPR for pension schemes and employers includes ways chairs can support improvements in D&I, and advice on D&I-related considerations employer can consider when appointing a chair.

Resources for schemes

More than half (52%) of respondents said they were aware of TPR’s guidance on D&I. Fewer knew of other sources of guidance and two-thirds (64%) of schemes that had developed a D&I strategy or policy said it was influenced by TPR’s guidance.

A similar proportion (49%) were aware of TPR’s D&I Action Plan. Awareness of TPR’s guidance was highest among professional trustees (78% vs 51% of corporate and 50% of non-professional trustees).

Notes for editors

  • Our trustee diversity and inclusion survey ran between July and August last year. The results are based on responses from 2,197 trustees and public service scheme board members. A report on the results of the survey were published today (Tuesday).
  • In September 2022 we published an action plan, in partnership with the pensions industry, to improve diversity and inclusion across trustee boards. It set out the steps we, in partnership with the Diversity and Inclusion Industry Working Group, will take to encourage and support trustees to recruit diverse candidates and create a culture of inclusion.
    • The Diversity and Inclusion Industry Working Group was set up to share knowledge and best practice and discuss ways for TPR to support trustee boards to become more diverse and inclusive. It is made up of more than 60 representatives from across the pensions industry and began regular meetings in January 2021.
  • Last March, we published guidance for governing bodies and employers, looking to improve the equality, diversity and inclusion of their pension scheme. 
  • Research on diversity among trustee boards, published in 2022, suggested a lack of data could be one of the barriers to improving diversity and inclusion. It found:
    • only 10% of defined benefit (DB) schemes and 14% of defined contribution (DC) schemes recorded any diversity data
    • three-quarters of the DB schemes that did not capture diversity data had no plans to do so in a future and a further 16% were unsure
    • the most common reasons given by DC schemes for not collecting the data was that they felt there was no need to collect it, while DB schemes said they hadn’t thought about collecting it
    • that gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, religion and educational attainment were each recorded by between 8%-10% of DC schemes and 1%-5% of DB schemes
    • that 40% of DB schemes and 47% of DC schemes did not identify any uses for the trustee diversity data they had captured. After monitoring purposes, the most common uses for diversity data trustee recruitment and developing training for trustee board members
  • TPR is the regulator of workplace trust-based pension schemes in the UK. Our statutory objectives are to:
    • protect members’ benefits 
    • reduce the risk of calls on the Pension Protection Fund
    • promote, and to improve understanding of, the good administration of work-based pension schemes
    • maximise employer compliance with automatic enrolment duties
    • minimise any adverse impact on the sustainable growth of an employer (in relation to the exercise of the regulator’s functions under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 only)

Press contacts

Dan Menhinnitt

Media Officer
01273 349511

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