Skip to content

Underrepresented groups meaning

Home   /   DE&I glossary   Underrepresented group definition

Underrepresented groups definition

When we talk about “underrepresented groups” we are most often talking about those individuals from one or more minoritised groups who are either not represented within a workforce’s demographics, or who systemically do not have the same access to employment or development opportunities as the majority of any given workforce or industry. 

For example, historically, women and those from Global Ethnic Majority (GEM) backgrounds have been traditionally marginalised within the workplace and are often not present in a workforce in a proportionate way to the community, society or population of a country.

For example, 51% of the population are female; therefore, for a workplace to be “representative” of the population, 51% of their workforce would also need to be female. If only 35% of a workforce is made up of female employees, then females are effectively an “underrepresented group”.

Similarly, according to the last Census for England and Wales (2021), 4% of the population of England and Wales are Black. Therefore, if less than 4% of a UK employer’s workforce were Black, this group would also be considered an “underrepresented group”. 

However, it’s important to remember that representation (and conversely, “underrepresentation”) is contextual and should be measured against an appropriate and relevant populace.  When measuring workplace (under)representation, it’s important to understand the community that you are measuring yourself against, and for that population to be relevant to your operations or location.

For example, if you are an employer who operates in a single location in Greater London, offering services only to the London population, it would not be an accurate measure of representation / underrepresentation if you were to use the population of England and Wales as your comparator. In the same 2021 Census of England and Wales, 13.5% of the population of London were reported as being Black. 

Therefore, for any measurement of underrepresentation to be meaningful, a London-based employer should measure their workforce against this populace, which would mean that anything less than 13.5% would indicate an underrepresentation of the Black community in their workforce. In this same scenario, an 8% Black workforce for an employer operating in England and Wales would be overrepresented, but underrepresented if they operated only in the Greater London area. 

Similarly, it’s generally accepted that there is long-term and systemic underrepresentation of individuals from Global Ethnic Majority backgrounds (those who are Black, Asian or from other non-White ethnicities) in some industries or specific types of employment, such as blue light services (police, fire service etc.), the armed services (Army, Navy etc.) or STEM industries. 

In these instances, organisations are able to take specific action to address this underrepresentation using Sections 158 and 159, the “Positive Action” provisions, outlined in the Equality Act 2010. 

Real-world context

  • Why is representation important? Creating a working environment that is representative of the communities that we either operate within or provide goods or services to is a great way of ensuring that we better understand the concerns or needs of any given group of people and that we create a fair and accessible workforce with equality of opportunity for all. However, it’s also a vital way of ensuring that a culture of inclusion, dignity and respect is inherent within an organisation, where diversity is valued and where everyone feels that they can belong. 
  • Understanding the context: As tackling underrepresentation is contextual, it’s important to remember that it isn’t always only minoritised groups (such as those from Global Ethnic Majority backgrounds or women) who are disproportionately underrepresented within a workplace, or industry.  Underrepresentation is any disproportionality of representation within a workplace of one dominant group, which can be different depending on the industry or environment. For example, 84.5% of women are primary school teachers in England, which means that they are overrepresented within this industry, with men being the underrepresented group with only 15.5% of primary school teachers being male. 

Related services

To continue reading about FAIRER Consulting and our DE&I consultancy services, please see some of our related pages here: