Actions by Investors on Listed Companies

More pressure on companies for greater gender diversity on boards


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.

State Street Global Advisors

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.


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.


Legal & General Investment Management

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

14 September 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 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.


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.


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.

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.

Read more here.

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.”