Industry

Asset Owners See Progress on Gender Despite Data Gaps

Nest and Church of England Pensions Board say collaboration with fund managers has helped action on female representation, but more could be done.

UK asset owners have said industry initiatives such as the 30% Club and the Asset Owner Diversity Charter have been instrumental in focusing attention on better gender representation at companies with their fund managers.  

The 30% Club was launched in 2010 by investment grandee Dame Helena Morrissey with the goal to achieve a minimum of 30% female representation on the boards of FTSE 100 companies. The Asset Owner Diversity Charter (AODC) launched in 2021 with a five-year goal to increase gender, ethnic and socio-economic diversity across the fund management industry.  

Diandra Soobiah, Head of Responsible Investment at UK workplace pension provider Nest, said its work with the 30% Club UK Investor group was vital for engagement with fund managers. “Investor collaboration between asset managers and asset owners on this topic is crucial if we’re to help move the UK to be a place where all people can fulfill their potential and progress in corporations,” she said.  

The group coordinates the UK investment community’s approach to taking action and driving change, including through collaborative engagement campaigns, Soobiah explained.  

For fellow member the Church of England Pensions Board (CoEPB), the 30%  Club was important for driving change for women at all levels. Helen Price, its Director of Governance, said: “The 30% Club advances corporate leadership opportunities for all women. That’s why it has broadened targets to include beyond 30% female representation at board and ExCo level of the FTSE350 and back the Parker Review’s race equity aims. A new workstream was established to focus on companies with low levels of female executives.”  

Similarly, the AODC has helped drive change at fund managers and the companies they invest in through its questionnaire on their activity to improve diversity internally, said Price, who serves as Co-Chair. “This approach also supports gender representation of women on company boards. As well as making better decisions, diverse investment teams are more likely to invest in diverse companies.”  

When founded, the AODC’s signatories accounted for £1 trillion in assets under management, including the CoEPB, with that figure currently sitting at approximately £1.7 trillion. 

Soobiah said the AODC had helped shine a spotlight on slow progress in the investment industry. “It’s important that asset managers continue to address diversity in their own organisations. The charter questionnaire helps asset owners understand how they’re doing that.”  

Lack of data 

On diversity data and metrics, Price said that the Hampton-Alexander review, now the FTSE Women Leaders Review, provided a tangible target that could be collectively adopted by investors. “Investors embedded the recommended targets into their voting policies and centred their engagement with companies around them,” she explained. “This has resulted in better data availability and great improvements at a board and executive level.” Female representation is now 42% on FTSE 350 boards and 35% in leadership.” Price added: “Regulators are also taking notice – there have been consultations from the Financial Conduct Authority, which will contribute to greater transparency and disclosure.” 

However, despite progress on initiatives, the investors still lacked quality data to make informed decisions on how seriously companies take the issue of diversity, said Soobiah – particularly at senior leadership and management levels where progress had been slower. Nest has published a gender pay gap report since 2022.  

New ways of working   

While precise data may still be lacking, anecdotally there are signs of positive change to better facilitate successful long-term career trajectories for women. Price said the transformation of the way people work in recent years could help better gender representation at companies.   

“Many more companies are offering flexible or hybrid working facilitating access to the workplace for women.  A lot of focus has been at the top level of companies, which is important, but building the pipeline and facilitating entrance into the workforce is equally important,” she said.  

“The biggest impact that can be made going forward is a greater focus on policy and inclusion. Equalising parental leave and improving the provision, access and affordability of childcare provision will vastly boost the number of women remaining in the workplace and progressing up the corporate ladder,” she said, citing the CoEPB’s equalised parental leave policy.  

  

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