Investors to use AGMs to get women on boards


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The Independent Online

Institutional investors are to step up the pressure on FTSE 250 companies that still have no female board members.

Fund managers such as Aviva Investors and Aberdeen Asset Management will press companies to meet Lord Davies’ 2015 target of having 25 per cent of board posts taken by women.

Aviva yesterday said that, if necessary, it would vote against the reappointment of nomination committee chairmen at annual meetings.

Only two FTSE 100 companies – Antofagasta and Glencore – remain without any women on their boards. But according to the Professional Boards Forum there are still 50 all-male boards among the FTSE 250 and some are without any programme to meet Lord Davies’ targets, which were set out in 2011.

Denise Wilson, the chief executive of Lord Davies’ steering group on Women on Boards, said: “It is surprising that after three years 50 companies have still not grasped the opportunity to diversify their boards and include women … The credibility of British business is at stake and [these companies must] step up like the FTSE 100 has – we have less than two years left.”

Abigail Herron, the head of responsible investment engagement at Aviva, said: “The FTSE 100 has made lots of changes already but the key battleground is the FTSE 250. We will be focusing this year on changing this.”

Anne Richards, the chief investment officer at Aberdeen, added: “There has been an unintentional barrier for some companies who are more risk-adverse, when appointing a woman, as they know it will be more high profile [than] if they were hiring a man.”

The fund managers’ pledge to put pressure on chairmen and turn up the heat when they vote at AGMs comes as Charlotte Sweeney yesterday published a code of conduct for headhunters, commissioned by the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, last year.

Ms Sweeney, a former head of diversity at Nomura, proposed that headhunters should commit to including at least one strongly recommended woman on the shortlist for all board positions, and that the Equalities and Human Rights Commission should create guidance for the headhunting industry on the legality of women-only shortlists.

She also suggested that Lord Davies’ steering group should set up a database of “board ready” women, to be shared with companies, investor groups and the 30% Club.

Mr Cable said: “The headhunting community is a crucial catalyst to introduce more capable women in the boardroom. However, they can often be one of the first hurdles that talented, board-ready women face when trying to reach the top, so I welcome any efforts to improve the transparency of the industry.”