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Blog : BOARD TALK

Shareholders Upset About Lack of Gender #Diversity? Yes !

Posted on May 27, 2014 at 5:10 PM

Are investors in UK plc still waiting for permission to speak out on gender diversity in the boardroom?


To be fair, there have been a few ructions - and a lot of cheerleading by the UK Business Secretary, Vince Cable, but even so - it feels as if it is a potentially dangerous ie slightly 'taboo' subject.


Enough noise was made about 'all-male' boards to shame FTSE100 mining company Glencore (as it is now known) and its newly installed chairman Tony Hayward to say they would appoint a woman to the boardroom by the end of this year. Clearly Mr Hayward has learnt something about PR since his time at BP.


But, apart from that, UK shareholders - and UK-  media have been very polite about the lack of gender diversity in FTSE boardrooms. This blog, by the way, took Lord Davies to task about having no women on the board of Chime Communications plc  (where he is Chairman) : now there are two. 


So here's some news from places where they mince their words less, possibly.


In New York, Urban Outfitters, the clothing retailer all of us who have had teenage children know well, is facing a shareholder rebellion over gender diversity in its boardroom - after large pension funds critiicised the lack of female directors. 


A shareholder resolution that is being supported by at least FIVE of the largest public pension funds in the US, suggests that the company should recruit more female and minority directors so that its board "reflects the diversity that exists within its target markets." It is, as they say, a 'no-brainer.'


As the Financial Times, which has the story, reports: "The proposal, sponsored by the comptroller of New York State, Thomas DiNapoli, and the Connecticut Retirement Plans, has attracted the backing of the $262bn California fund Calpers and funds in North Carolina and New York City." Doesn't money talk ? And it can talk so well for the best future...


The FT story has an excellent quote from Anne Simpson, senior portfolio manager at Calpers:  "Urban Outfitters thrives on tracking fashion and yet is committed to a deeply unfashionable and outmoded form of corporate governance." 


Exactly. When you have one single female board director, and she's the wife of the founder and CEO...it might be time to take stock of who you are, and what you are saying about your business. 


It's high time UK shareholders followed Anne Simpson's lead and spoke their mind on gender diversity. They might find the world will still be intact - and it's always good to give the status quo a good 'wobble.'




Categories: Women, Investors, Representation