New group presses major US firms over board gender diversity

Thirty Percent Coalition includes investors, women’s organisations

New US campaign group the Thirty Percent Coalition, which includes institutional investors with some $1.2trn (€950bn) in assets, women’s groups and other bodies, is pressing large listed US companies over board gender diversity.
The coalition has written to the 41 companies on the benchmark S&P 500 Index that do not have any women on their boards. The group, which was formed late last year, is calling for women to hold 30% of corporate board seats by 2015 – up from an estimated 12-16% currently.
Among the companies targeted are controversial natural gas giant Chesapeake Energy, clothing firm Urban Outfitters, online travel company Expedia, defence contractor Teradyne and Pittsburgh-based mutual funds giant Federated Investors.
The group says there’s a correlation between greater gender diversity, good corporate governance and long-term financial performance.

The signatories are not calling for quotas; instead they want companies to embrace the goals voluntarily.
“We are simply urging companies in general, and these 41 companies in particular, to do better when it comes to inclusiveness and board diversity,” said Joe Keefe, the CEO of sustainable funds firm Pax World Mutual Funds who chairs the coalition’s Institutional Investor Committee. He says the 30% goal is a “modest, reasonable goal”.
A similar group in the UK called the 30% Club was founded by Newton Investment Management CEO Helena Morrissey last year.Swedish buffer fund Andra AP-fonden has been publishing its annual Women’s Index for 10 years.

Signatories to the Thirty Percent Coalition include public pension funds in California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, mutual funds and other asset managers, union organisation the AFLCIO and leading women’s organizations. (Link to membership)
“I am proud to join the Thirty Percent Coalition in urging companies to add women to their board of directors,” tweeted New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

“We intend to press for change” – Anne Sheehan

Anne Sheehan, Director of Corporate Governance at the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) said the group intends to “follow up and engage with” each of the 41 companies.
She said: “Whether it’s in dialogue with management, through shareholder resolutions, or related strategies, we intend to press for change. And then we’ll move beyond the S&P 500 to other companies as well.”

It’s believed to be the first time in the US that big investors and women’s groups have joined forces in this way. “Women’s groups across the nation have long fought for gender equality, and institutional investors have long been interested in good corporate governance and long-term investment returns,” says Project Leader Charlotte Laurent-Ottomane. Home page