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Dutch pension funds ‘falling short’ on board diversity

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Dutch pension funds implementing the country’s code of conduct are falling short on improving diversity, according to the code’s dedicated monitoring committee.

In its annual report, Margot Scheltema, the committee’s chair, said that despite overall adherence to the code continuing to improve, pension funds missed chances to appoint women and younger participants.

The committee found that, in 2017, 82% of schemes without people aged under 40 on their board failed to appoint a younger trustee when filling vacancies.

As a consequence, the proportion of pension funds with younger participants on their board – 38% – remained unchanged.

However, the number of schemes with female board members increased by 5 percentage points to 63%.

That said, a large majority (73%) of pension funds with an all-male board filled vacancies with another male in 2017.

The committee said it regretted this development, adding that these decisions lacked a proper explanation.

“Pension funds deny themselves the advantage of a diverse board,” it said.

Investors targeting diversity

As listed companies begin holding their annual general meetings this month, investors have vowed to put boards under pressure to address diversity issues.

The Investment Association, the trade body for the UK’s £7.7trn (€9bn) asset management industry, said last month that its Institutional Voting Information Service would focus on board diversity alongside remuneration when engaging with companies this year.

Andrew Ninian, the association’s director of stewardship and corporate governance, said: “Evidence clearly shows that more diverse boardrooms make better decisions. Investors want to see greater diversity in the companies they invest in to ensure our savers and investors are getting the best returns possible.”

In addition, the Church Investors Group – which represents investment entities for UK church groups – has also vowed to put pressure on listed companies to improve diversity.

The £21bn group said it would vote against the chairs of nomination committees at companies listed on main indices in Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand if they do not have at least one female director. It previously only focused on UK companies.

Fearless Girl

State Street’s ‘Fearless Girl’ statue was moved this week from Wall Street in New York to Paternoster Square in London, close to the London Stock Exchange

Nordea launches gender diversity investment fund

Nordea Asset Management has added a Global Gender Diversity Fund to its product range, coinciding with International Women’s Day.

The strategy aims to “capitalise on research revealing higher equity market returns are being achieved by companies at the forefront of gender diversity”, Nordea said.

The fund has a universe of 1,700 companies from which to select based just on “fair gender diversity representation”, the asset manager said. These will then be screened for liquidity, ESG and financial qualities to come up with a smaller group of roughly 350 stocks, which will in turn be assigned a gender diversity score.

Fund managers Julie Bech and Audhild Asheim Aabø will then select roughly 80-100 stocks for their portfolio.

Nordea also linked the fund to one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls”.

“Investors are beginning to note the effects of gender diversity on corporate performance, with improved gender diversity being linked to broadened perspectives and improved decision making,” Nordea said. It cited data from the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2018, which reported that better gender diversity resulted in improved sustained profitable growth, corporate culture and leadership strength.

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