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Industry Spotlight > Women in Wealth

Women Making Headway, Slowly, on Company Boards

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The effort to add women to company boards is advancing, but slowly. As of February, 681 of the 1,384 firms worldwide identified by State Street Global Advisors added a female director since the firm’s push began in 2017.

The update came ahead of International Women’s Day on Sunday and the three-year anniversary on Saturday of the installation of the “Fearless Girl” statue, which now stands in front of the New York Stock Exchange.

In July 2019, the last S&P 500 company with an all-male board added a female member.

In the United States, 495 of the 928 boards SSGA examined added women since 2017, along with 33 of 74 in Canada and 13 of 15 in the United Kingdom. In Japan, 101 of 295 boards added a woman, while 30 of 59 did so in Australia.

“This moment represents so much more than an anniversary — ‘Fearless Girl’ is about a smarter way to do business,” according to Cyrus Taraporevala, president and CEO of State Street Global Advisors. “Due in large part to the broader industry conversation sparked by [the statue’s] installation, there’s been a sea change in gender diversity on corporate boards — but this still is just the beginning of this growth story. As stewards of investor assets, we will continue to use our voice and our vote to advocate for greater gender diversity on boards.”

“Fearless Girl,” which was installed in 2017 facing down the Charging Bull statue near Wall Street, was moved to the NYSE in December 2018. Commissioned to promote the launch of the  SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF, the statue symbolizes the women’s movement and the fight to increase boardroom diversity.

In April 2019, the fund was criticized for its proxy voting record on gender-related shareholder resolutions. “Our preference continues to be constructive engagement, and we only take voting action as a last resort,” Taraporevala responded in a blog post at the time.

Going forward, State Street Global Advisors says it will vote against a board’s full nominating and governance committee, not just the chair, in its target markets if concerns about lack of gender diversity aren’t allayed over four consecutive years and “companies are unable to engage in productive dialogue,” the firm stated.

A new focus for the board-diversity movement will be Hong Kong and Singapore, where SSGA plans to expand its gender diversity voting guidelines.

SSGA is the third-largest asset manager in the world with $3.12 trillion under management.

California has been a trailblazer in growing the share of women on boards. In September 2018, it signed a law decreeing that every public company headquartered in the state must have at least one board seat held by a woman, a number to rise to two by the end of 2021 for boards with five members and at least three for boards with six or more members.

(Related: Top 12 Big Banks for Female Board Membership)

Studies have shown that equal pay for women could add more than $500 billion to the U.S. economy. Even so, in 2019, Morningstar found that only 14% of fund managers were women — a number that hasn’t moved since 2000. A recent majority report by the House Financial Services Committee found that 29% of senior executives across banks and financial services companies were women, while another study found 27% of S&P 500 company board seats are held by women.

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