Gender Diversity in ESG Investing

Moving the Needle on Gender Parity Through Active Ownership 

Investor Challenges

                                

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CHALLENGE

A lack of women in board-level corporate leadership positions at public companies.

SOLUTION

We vote proxies to support resolutions calling for greater gender parity and board diversity.

RESULTS

Majority of year-to-date resolutions on board diversity have received strong support and positive corporate responses.

Challenge

Investors are increasingly concerned about the lack of women in corporate leadership positions, particularly on boards of directors. In addition to concerns surrounding equal opportunity, investors worry about the potentially detrimental impact on corporate performance from homogeneous decision-making teams.


The challenge is plain to see when you look at the numbers. When it comes to women on boards, the United States lags nearly all other developed countries. As of June 2018, according to MSCI ESG Research, women occupied only 23% of board seats at large-cap US companies. If you include small- and mid-cap companies, the average drops to 18%. Amazingly, 14% of the companies in this broader-cap universe had no women board members (seen predominantly at small- and mid-cap companies).



Investors want to see more women in corporate leadership positions, but they can’t always engage directly with management on this issue.

Average share of board seats occupied by women

Source: MSCI ESG Research as of June 2018, based on MSCI ACWI Index constituents domiciled within each country.


Although larger institutional asset owners may be able to directly influence companies on this matter via corporate engagement, smaller institutional or individual asset owners may not have the bandwidth or sway to monitor or act on this issue. So how do they influence change?


Solution

Although some investment managers recommend avoiding companies with few or no women on their boards, Parametric believes that owning and then attempting to influence companies on this issue is necessary to most effectively inspire change.


Our proxy-voting guidelines support shareholder resolutions that ask management to improve the state of gender parity on their boards, especially at US companies. For example:


  • Asking the board to make greater efforts to find qualified women and minority candidates for board nominations
  • Endorsing a policy of board inclusiveness
  • Support reporting to shareholders on a company’s efforts to increase board diversity

Parametric also generally supports requests for reporting on a company’s policies and goals to reduce any gender pay gap. This bolsters the objective of gender parity beyond the most senior level.



Parametric generally supports requests for reporting on a company’s policies and goals to reduce any gender pay gap.

Results

According to research provider Si2, 33 shareholder resolutions were put forward on board diversity and reporting as of June 2018. Of these, 25 were successfully withdrawn after receiving a positive response from the company, which meant no vote from shareholders was required. Of the eight remaining, four went to a vote and received double-digit support from shareholders. With regard to gender and minority pay disparity, there were 31 resolutions filed at US companies through June 2018. Of these, 23 were successfully withdrawn after positive company responses and four received double-digit support.



Owning and voting, rather than divesting, is the more effective way to influence change.

While there’s no level of support that requires a company to act on shareholder resolutions, double-digit support is typically considered noteworthy, and 50% support begins to reach a level where companies are expected to respond.

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