Less than 10 per cent of powerful new roles up for grabs in next month's local elections will go to candidates other than white men, new research has found.
Figures from the Electoral Reform Society show that 93 per cent of the mayoralty and cabinet seats in new combined authorities are expected to be secured by white men.
In a warning ahead of the 4 May votes, it said that English devolution risks becoming a "plaything of the old boys’ club".
Residents of six city regions are set to vote on a new directly elected mayor for the first time next month, with candidates including former John Lewis boss Andy Street in the West Midlands and Labour's former shadow home secretary Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester.
However, the Electoral Reform Society warned that just one mayoralty race, in Tees Valley, currently looks likely to return a female mayor.
In a raft of recommendations to redress the balance, the think tank has called for "urgent" action to boost gender representation, with parties told to make diversity a priority for scrutiny committees.
“It’s time to inject some democracy and diversity into English devolution. With the public largely shut out of the process, and models imposed rather than chosen, so far citizen involvement in the constitutional future of their own areas has been minimal. That must change," Electoral Reform Society chief executive Katie Ghose said.
“In places where mayors are to be elected, there are now fresh opportunities for the new leaders to open up their doors. The candidates – and the new mayors when elected – must seize those opportunities are ensure that devolution is built to last, and isn’t just the preserve of a small elite."