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Oct 20, 2016

Asset managers call for more women on boards

Fund groups back campaign to vote against boards lacking women

A number of leading asset managers have made a commitment to back a campaign to vote against board appointments at companies that do not have enough women executives. 

Jupiter Asset Management, Old Mutual Global Investors, Newton Investment Management, the Environment Agency Pension Fund and EdenTree Investment Management have all signed up to the campaign, established by the 30% Club. It is pushing for greater representation of women in corporate senior management and has called for more fund managers to follow suit and vote against board appointments in companies that show no progress.

Brenda Trenowden, who chairs the 30% Club and heads the financial institutions group for Europe at ANZ Bank, says: ‘It is vital that investors engage with companies on the issue and, where appropriate, exercise their ownership rights through voting in the event of inadequate responses by boards. 

‘This could involve voting actions in listed companies in two areas: disclosure expectations and exercise of ownership rights regarding directors’ elections and reporting.’ 

The move follows the launch of a UK government charter under then prime minister David Cameron back in March, aimed at improving the gender diversity of senior management teams at financial services companies. Of the 72 companies signed up to this charter, 60 have pledged to have at least 30 percent of senior roles filled by women by 2021. 

Thirteen companies – among them Virgin Money and Legal and General – are aiming for gender parity in senior positions, while banks including Royal Bank of Scotland, Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC and Santander will publish in greater detail their strategies to improve gender diversity. Schroders, BlackRock and Aberdeen have also signed up to the charter. 

Launched in March, the charter follows a review into ways to improve gender balance in the financial services industry. It suggests executives at banks and other financial services companies should have their pay tied to the number of women they appoint to senior roles but stops short of calling for a fixed number of women in senior roles by a certain date. 

Asset managers have also come under fire for poor representation of women and ethnic minorities in their own market. According to the latest figures, fewer than one in 10 UK funds is managed or co-managed by a woman, and in the US that figure is much worse: only 184 of the 7,000 mutual funds in the US are run by female portfolio managers. 

‘The asset management market has gone backwards in terms of diversity and something had to be done about it,’ says Helena Morrissey, founder of the 30% Club. ‘We have definitely worsened compared with other industries.’