Women comprise half of the world’s population, but the difference in economic position with men is still very high. In our view, it is the societal responsibility of companies to enhance the inclusion of women.

Triodos helps make it happen

In early 2015, Triodos has called upon all companies in its socially responsible investment portfolios to develop and publish programmes, targets, and efforts to increase gender equality in top management and supervisory boards. They all received our views on gender equality and information about the advantages and need for more women on boards. We also called on companies to develop diversity programmes and will engage further with them throughout the rest of this year’s voting season.

In addition to these activities, we have also set stricter proxy voting guidelines for Annual General Meetings of Shareholders. From 2015 onwards, we will no longer support the election of the Chairman of a Nomination Committee if less than 20% of the Board is female (or male) and no satisfactory explanation is provided. In addition, we will no longer support any proposal to elect a new non-executive director to a supervisory or management board if there is no improvement to a board’s gender balance when less than 20 per cent of the Board is female (or male).

The advantages of gender equality

A diverse board has members from different backgrounds, gender, national origin, race, sexual orientation, and viewpoint. Multiple studies have confirmed the advantages of a diverse board and top management, particularly in relation to gender equality. Diversity at the highest levels of responsibility and authority in a company increases its competitive advantage. Studies have shown that companies with more female board members perform better in terms of revenue growth and profit. According to MSCI, 2014 Survey of Women on Boards from November 2014, companies with more female representation also have a better corporate social responsibility and sustainability performance, as shown, for example, in a lower number of governance incidents. This advantage may also lead to a better company image and, ultimately, to a better financial performance. Finally, research indicates that companies with more female board representation are much more likely to have a corporate culture that indeed stimulates the inclusion and improvement of the position of women throughout the organisation.

The regulatory perspective

From a regulatory perspective, the European Commission strives for 40% female board membership in company management boards and supervisory boards. The Netherlands opts for a 30% female board membership. Such quotas are not (yet) mandatory, but companies are legally obliged to strive for these quota. Despite government recommendations and voluntary targets, gender equality in boards remains low.

Globally, the percentage of women on corporate boards is only 11%, with large differences between countries and sectors. In Europe, the board structure is a little more diverse with 20% of the supervisory board members being female. Nevertheless, a little over 3% of the largest listed companies in the European Union have a female Chief Executive Officer. Interestingly, companies in Asia tend to have less female supervisory board members than in Europe and North America but the highest percentages of female CEOs can be found there, with South Korea topping the bill with 30% female CEOs.

Frontrunners

One company in our portfolio with a relatively good gender balance is Swedish telecommunications company Teliasonera . Both the Supervisory Board and the Management board consist of 11 members, and both boards have four female members, including the Chairperson. Teliasonera also used to have a female CEO. Another example is real estate investment trust company, Capitacommercial Trust based in Singapore, which has a female CEO and three more females in the five-person management team. The company’s Supervisory Board, however, consists of seven men and the one female CEO.

Note: The issues explored in this article are relevant for sustainable investments on the stock market. Triodos Bank believes that our socially responsible investments are a powerful means of promoting our values and working for greater sustainability, while enabling us to offer a complete range of attractive investment options to customers who choose to invest on the stock market.