Actions by Investors on Listed Companies

More pressure on companies for greater gender diversity on boards

Fidelity International

Fidelity International to vote against company management in developed markets that do not have at least 30% women on boards

26 Jul 2021

From 2022, Fidelity International will consider voting against company management in most developed markets that do not have at least 30% women’s participation on the board of directors.

In markets where standards on diversity are still developing, an initial 15% threshold is targeted.

These plans were announced in their Sustainable Investing Voting Principles and Guidelines published on 26 July 2021.

Paras Anand, Fidelity’s chief investment officer for Asia-Pacific, says “An increasing body of research has shown that organisations that promote diversity are more productive and better performing. We know from our own company that a diverse and inclusive workplace brings benefits for our customers, our business and our people.

At Fidelity, we are committed to actively engaging with our investee companies globally; driving them towards more ambitious gender diversity goals, and ensuring we are holding them to account where our expectations are not met.”

Read more here.

BNP Paribas Asset Management

BNP Paribas Asset Management raises minimum threshold of women’s participation on boards of investee companies in Asia to 15%

21 Apr 2021
From 2021, BNP Paribas Asset Management (BNPP AM) will abstain or vote against board elections where the board is less than 15% WOB for Asian markets and the candidate is male. This is an extension of their 2020 policy, where they called for at least one woman to be present on the board.

They could support male directors if, however, the company has made important improvements, in the case of a small board (8 directors maximum), if there is a commitment to reach the 15% threshold within two years, or the CEO or Chair is a woman.

The asset manager has a higher threshold of 30% women on board for the Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa markets.

The asset manager has also included a longer-term objective of at least 40% women on board by 2025.

BNPP AM pursued a focused engagement strategy with investee companies. In 2020, targeted 23 companies in actively managed portfolios that were not in line with their board diversity policy. Eventually, about 30% adopted changes in line with their voting policy.

Read more here.

Norges Bank Investment Management

Norwegian sovereign wealth fund calls for companies it invests in globally to boost their board gender diversity

15 Feb 2021
Norges Bank Investment Management’s position on board diversity is as follows:

  1. The board should have diverse competencies and backgrounds and ensure that it can bring a broad range of perspectives and approaches to its decision-making process.
  2. Boards where either gender has less than 30% representation should consider setting targets for gender diversity and report on progress achieved.
  3. The board should have a rigorous search and formal nomination process to identify potential candidates from different backgrounds who can contribute to diversity on the board.

Click here to read their board diversity policy.

Carine Smith Ihenacho, the fund’s chief governance and compliance officer, says “Diversity is good for the board because it brings better perspective, it is better for decision-making and increasingly important for the legitimacy of companies. It (a lack of female representation) could also be a red flag, that a company does not have a good process to recruit the best director.”

They consider board diversity as a contribution to the overall effectiveness of the board and an indication of an effective board nomination process. As a long-term global investor, they are also concerned that companies with non-diverse boards will not be able to maintain the trust of their customers, investors and society at large over time.

Read more here.

Vanguard Group

Vanguard to put pressure on companies that fail to push for greater diversity on their boards

Dec 2020
Starting 2021, Vanguard funds may vote against directors at companies where progress on board diversity falls behind market norms and expectations.

The US money manager may hold Nominating Committee Chairs or other relevant directors accountable as they continue to advocate for changes that reflect their view that well-composed boards are in the best interest of long-term shareholders.

They anticipate that the greatest board diversity risks to the portfolio in 2021 will be companies with no gender, racial or ethnic diveristy or a lack of board diversity disclosure and policy. Vanguard is currently focused on companies in North America and Europe, where they believe that the risks (driven by regulation or other stakeholder pressures) are greatest.

This comes as an expansion of their 2019 policy encouraging firms to disclose their board diversity measures and take steps to diversify their boards as well as their 2020 policy asking firms to increase their efforts, invest in a prospective-director pipeline and make tangible progress.

Read Vanguard’s full policy here.


AXA IM expands its gender diversity voting policy for both developed and emerging market economies

8 Jul 2020
AXA Investment Managers (AXA IM) will be targeting listed companies in Japan and emerging market economies from this year, where the board does not include a minimum of one female director (or 10% of the board for larger boards).

From 2021, AXA IM will vote against listed companies in developed market economies where women do not make up at least one-third of the board.

The fund manager will oppose the election or re-election of the Nominating Committee Chair or vote against the approval of accounts where these minimum requirements are not met.

AXA IM will also be pushing for companies to disclose and report against their executive committee gender diversity policy and targets. It will hold companies accountable against these targets and push companies that continue to fall short of their defined target or market best practice to explain shortcomings and how they intend to address the situation. It may use its voting power at annual general meetings to address concerns at companies that fall short of appropriate disclosures and have no credible plan to address the topic.

Read AXA IM’s full press release here.

2017 AXA Investment Managers’ Corporate Governance and Voting Policy scrutinises board diversity


The policy states under Board Composition and Diversity:

“The Board should comprise a range of directors who, individually and collectively, understand the company’s strategy; can contribute their knowledge and expertise to the development of its businesses; understand the environment in which it operates; have a knowledge of the markets where it conducts its businesses; are aware of the risks associated with the strategy; and have insights into the different stakeholders, including regulators, customers, shareholders and wider society, whose views impact on the company or whose support is necessary for its continued success.

We believe that this requirement naturally points to the need for a diversity of skills, knowledge, experience, gender and nationality amongst the directors on the Board.”

Read AXA Investment Managers’ Corporate Governance and Voting Policy document here.

State Street Global Advisors

SSGA’s Expectations on Diversity Strategy, Goals & Disclosure for Public Companies

27 Aug 2020
State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) urged US companies in its portfolio and, to the greatest extent possible, non-US companies, provide 5 key areas of communications to shareholders:

  1. Role of diversity in the firm’s long-term strategy
  2. Diversity goals, how it contributes to the overall strategy, and progress towards achieving it
  3. Measures of diversity e.g. gender, race, ethnicity
  4. How the board reflects the diversity of the firm’s stakeholders
  5. How the board executes its oversight role in diversity and inclusion

Read more here.

State Street Global Advisors to extend voting guidelines to Singapore

5 Mar 2020

Beginning this month, State Street Global Advisors will be expanding its gender diversity voting guidelines to Hong Kong and Singapore, with the companies listed on the Straits Times and Hang Seng indices being impacted. The asset manager will vote against the chair of the nomination committee or the director most responsible for the nomination process, this year and for the next two years. If the company still does not respond, SSGA will then vote against the full nomination committee in the following year. 

This voting guideline was introduced in the US, UK and Australia in 2017, and extended to continental Europe, Canada and Japan in 2018.

In 2020, State Street Global Advisors celebrates the third anniversary of the launch of the Fearless Girl campaign. Since then, globally, 681 publicly-traded companies with previously no women on their boards that the firm called on and engaged with have added at least one female board member.

Read more here.

State Street to Vote Against All Members of the Nominating Committee at Male-Only Boards

27 Sep 2018
State Street Global Advisors announced that it will vote against all members of a company’s nominating committee if they continue to have male-only boards. This will start in 2020 in the US, UK and Australia, and 2021 in Japan and Canada.

“We want them to know that we’re watching. We know who you are. You have another year to be quiet, after which there are consequences to not engaging with us”, says Rakhi Kumar, who leads environmental, social and governance investment strategy and asset stewardship at State Street Global Advisors, said in an interview with Bloomberg.

State Street had deliberately set a timeline of 2020, three years from the start of the Fearless Girl campaign, before voting against more directors so that boards had enough time to look for female candidates. “If in three years you haven’t found somebody, you’re probably not going to find them because you don’t want to find them,” Kumar said.

Read more here.

More than 150 Publicly-Traded Companies Add Female Board Members since State Street’ “Fearless Girl” Was Placed

8 Mar 2018
Actions taken by State Street.
Click to see full infographic
State Street Global Advisors:
In the year since Fearless Girl was installed on Wall Street, State Street Global Advisors identified and reached out to more than 700 companies in the US, UK and Australia that had no women on their boards through direct engagement, its letter writing campaign or using its vote to address their lack of board diversity. 152 publicly-traded companies that the firm reached out to now have at least one female board member.

State Street Global Advisors voted against more than 500 companies for failing to demonstrate progress on board diversity. In addition to the 152 companies that added a female board member, another 34 companies committed to adding at least one woman to their board in the near term. The firm also announced it would be expanding its board guidance to companies in Japan, Canada and Europe.

State Street Global Advisors is now calling on portfolio companies to create more transparency and share more data about the number of women they have at all levels of management.

Read more here:

State Street votes against re-election of nominating committee directors if they don’t make strides at adding women

13 Nov 2017

State Street Global Advisors announced that it would vote against nominating committee members if they don’t make strides at adding women to boards. The campaign started in March 2017 for companies in US, UK, Australia; this has been extended to big Japanese and Canadian companies since November 2017.

State Street’s boardroom diversity campaign has drawn attention to the dearth of women on corporate boards while also putting the firm’s own diversity policies in the spotlight.

State Street President Ron O’Hanley said that since the start of State Street’s boardroom campaign in the U.S., 42 companies that received a ‘no’ vote from State Street have moved to address the lack of gender diversity.

“Some of the votes did catch firms by surprise,” Mr. O’Hanley said. “We were surprised they were surprised. The conversations are much deeper now.”

Read more here.

Legal & General Investment Management

LGIM to vote against more Japanese companies with no women on their boards

31 Mar 2021
Starting from 2021, Legal & General Investment Management will vote against all TOPIX Mid 400 companies in Japan which do not have at least one woman on their board. In 2020, the policy was previously only applicable to TOPIX 100 companies.

Although the number of all-male boards has been gradually decreasing, there is progress to be made. Only 3% of TOPIX 100 companies have 30% women on board.

Japanese companies such as Olympus and Kubota were named by LGIM for not having female board members in 2020. They have since begun to add women directors to their board.

Read more here.

LGIM to vote against companies in Japan with all-male boards

3 Feb 2020

Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) will vote against all TOPIX 100 companies in Japan which do not have at least one woman representative on their board. 

While the percentage of women board members at TOPIX 100 companies rose above ten percent for the first time in 2019, it remains significantly lower than in other developed markets.

LGIM also announced an escalation of its voting policy towards combined CEO and board chairs, with the decision to vote against combined roles at director elections globally.

The changes come as part of LGIM’s annual review of its global proxy voting policies for 2020, which strengthens its position on strategic corporate governance, including auditor tenure and board level diversity.

Read more here.

Addressing gender diversity and making profits: LGIM’s GIRL fund has beaten the market since launch

14 Sep 2019

Legal & General’s Future World Gender in Leadership UK Index fund (‘GIRL fund’), which backs 350 of UK’s largest firms with greater gender diversity, has outperformed both its benchmark and IA UK All Companies sector average return since its launch in 2018. This has generated more discussion on gender lens investing, catching the attention of investors seeking to combine both social impact and financial returns.  

Read more here.

LGIM among global investors to press harder for women on Asian boards

24 Jul 2019

Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) will vote against all companies globally with no female directors starting next year. 

In 2019, LGIM picked 19 large Japanese companies with no women on the board or at executive levels and began voting against their proposals. The asset manager exercises its voting rights for nearly 500 companies in Japan. In the U.K., the manager already votes against businesses with less than 25% female representation on the board.

A 2018 report from Corporate Women Directors International on the world’s 200 largest companies found that female representation on boards remained low in Japan at 7% and lower in China at 4.8%. Of the 39 companies with no women serving as board directors, 35 were based in Asia.

Read more here.

LGIM will vote against boards that are not at least 25% female

17 Apr 2017

Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM), one of Europe’s biggest asset managers, has written to the chief executives of some of the world’s top companies calling for more action on female representation on boards, gender pay gaps and climate change. LGIM’s voting intentions are closely watched by major corporations in which it is often a leading shareholder. 

LGIM also said it would vote against boards that are not at least 25 percent female.

Read more here.

All-male boards face investor backlash

15 Apr 2017

Britain’s largest asset manager – Legal & General Investment Management (LGIM) that oversees $1tn of assets – has pledged to start voting against directors at US companies that have failed to appoint a woman to their board, as investors become increasingly frustrated by the continued prevalence of male-dominated boardrooms.

Clare Payn, head of corporate governance for North America at the UK fund house, said: “We feel there really should not be any all-male boards at this stage, as investors have been talking about this for so many years.”

LGIM decided to vote against all-male boards at Britain’s largest companies in 2015, and extended that policy to include FTSE 250 companies last year. Aviva Investors, the London-headquartered asset manager, also decided to vote against all-male boardrooms in the UK in 2014.

Read more here.


Australia’s biggest super fund to vote against companies with only one woman on their boards

15 Sep 2019

Australia’s biggest super fund, AustralianSuper, will vote against the election of directors of 52 ASX-listed firms with fewer than two women on their boards, representing more than a quarter of firms on the ASX 200. The policy was instituted in 2016. The number of all-male boards on the ASX has since dropped from 17 to five.

Read more here.


BlackRock: Companies should have at least 2 female directors

3 Feb 2018
BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest asset manager, is asking companies with few or no women on their boards to explain themselves, saying that diverse groups make better decisions.

The firm’s investment stewardship group sent letters to all Russell 1000 companies with fewer than two female directors, asking that they justify how that aligns with their long-term strategies and to report on efforts to increase diversity on their boards.

Irrespective of a company’s industry, location or size, we believe that a lack of diversity on the board undermines its ability to make effective strategic decisions,” BlackRock said in the letter signed by Michelle Edkins, global head of investment stewardship at the New York-based asset manager. The firm said a diverse board helps companies attract and retain employees.

BlackRock also updated its proxy voting guidelines, adding a stipulation that it expects companies to have at least two women directors on their boards.

Read more here.

BlackRock to put pressure on companies to address boardroom diversity

Jul 2017

Blackrock, an asset manager with US$5.1 trillion under management, released its engagement priorities for 2017 – 2018 in March 2017.

The first of its five key priority issues is Governance, which includes a focus on the diversity of boards, including but not limited to diversity of expertise, experience, age, race and gender. Blackrock has indicated “Where we have concerns that the board is not dealing with a material risk appropriately, as with any other governance issue, we may signal that concern through our vote, most likely by voting against the re-election of certain directors we deem most responsible for board process and risk oversight.”

Read Blackrock’s full engagement priorities for 2017-2018 here.


UBS: invest in socially responsible businesses and those with more women in senior jobs in particular

15 Dec 2017

Mark Haefele, Chief Investment Officer of UBS’s wealth management arm and chairman of the UBS Global investment committee, says that investors can earn enormous extra returns if they focus their funds on socially responsible businesses, and those with more women in senior jobs in particular.

He had long ignored arguments to invest ethically, instead insisting that profit is the main useful focus of his profession. But in a major conversion he now says that socially responsible investment appears to be the best way to make money, quite apart from any moral benefits. “This is not because I would advocate mixing investing and philanthropy: there is little room for emotion in investment decisions. Rather it’s because the investment world has changed.”

“In our view, gender diversity serves to a certain degree as a proxy for good corporate governance practices,” Mr Haefele said. “Our gender-focused company basket outperformed the MSCI World Index by 2pc a year on average between 2011 [and] November 2017.”

Read more here.

UBS Chief Investment Office Makes Case for Investing with a Gender Lens

20 Jun 2017

To skeptics that argue that companies choose the “best” person for the job, regardless of gender, UBS points out that the question of the best person for the job cannot be answered in isolation; instead, it must be considered within the context of the organization or group that the new member will join. What experiences, skills, and knowledge will the next board member or executive manager bring to the table that is not already represented by the incumbents?

UBS also shows evidence that women have the potential to fill skill gaps on boards – in areas such as sustainability, risk management, human resources.

Read more about how to invest with a gender lens here.

Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson calls for diversity of thought for boards to remain effective in the new economy

11 Oct 2017

The firm says many boards in Singapore and Asia still lack the diversity and specialist skills required to successfully navigate new challenges.

Willis Towers Watson has called on listed companies in Singapore and Asia to prepare themselves for emerging risks by addressing the composition and effectiveness of their boards.

It believes a more strategic approach to board composition can help improve company performance and the effectiveness with which boards navigate the uncertainties of increasing digitalisation and automation in workplaces. It is only through diversity of thought and experience – covering functional expertise, market experience, geographic exposure, tenure, and gender – that today’s boards will be able to effectively navigate the challenges of the future.

Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative (SSE)

2018 Ring the Bell Event 

Mar 2018

In celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March 2018), 65 stock exchanges around the world hosted bell ringing ceremonies to raise awareness of the pivotal role the private sector can play in advancing gender equality to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).

The events are organized with UN Women, Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, IFC, Women in ETFs and World Federation of Exchanges.

Find out more here.

2017 Ring the Bell Event

Mar 2017

In celebration of International Women’s Day (8 March 2017), 43 stock exchanges around the world hosted bell ringing ceremonies to raise awareness of the pivotal role the private sector can play in advancing gender equality to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 5 (achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls).

The events are organized with UN Women, Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative, IFC, Women in ETFs and World Federation of Exchanges.

Find out more here.

Other Investor Activities

ISS-DAC roundtable with institutional investors

On 10 February 2015, the Diversity Action Committee and Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) organised a roundtable session to gather institutional investors’ insights on ‘Board Diversity, Director Nomination, and Shareholder Value’.  The participants included international and local institutional investors, and organisations with interest in corporate governance.

The roundtable discussion was led by Jun Frank, the Head of Asia ex-Japan Research at ISS.   The participants unanimously agreed that strong boards with diverse but relevant skills and experience result in better company performance.

Concluding that investors are increasingly paying attention to these topics, the key recommendations were:

  • There should be a strong and “truly independent” element on the board.
  • Companies should be more transparent in disclosing its diversity policies and setting measurable objectives.
  • Nominating committees should put in place a diversity policy in their terms of reference.

SGX released its Investor Guide to Understanding Board Diversity in 2014 to help investors understand:

  • Board Diversity
  • Why Board Diversity is important
  • Some considerations when appointing new directors
  • Some key points in assessing board diversity

Read more here.

“Investors should look out for the rationale for director appointment, noting not just how the nominee qualifies for appointment but also why he stands out over other candidates and how he fits with the rest of the directors on the board.”