Goldman Sachs to vote against directors when boards lack women

Bloomberg | Updated on March 11, 2020

Goldman Sachs Group Inc’s fund-management unit wants a woman on every corporate board, and the Wall Street firm said it’s now willing to vote that way across the globe.

In a first-of-its-kind global policy, Goldman Sachs Asset Management said it will vote against nominating committees anywhere in the world that fail to include at least one woman on the board. In the US, more than 20 per cent of corporate board members are women, so the policy may have a more significant impact in places like Japan where a much smaller percentage of companies have female directors.

“We really believe diversity of thought on boards drives better outcomes,” Katie Koch, who leads Goldman’s global stewardship team, said in an interview.

Goldman casts more than 11,000 proxy votes a year. In 2019, the New York-based firm voted against board members leading the nominating committee at 214 US companies with all-male directors. Since then, 79 of those companies added a female board member.

The move to overhaul proxy voting globally comes after Goldman said in January that it will only take companies public if they have a female or diverse director on their board.

Asset managers have pushed broadly as a group to get US boards to include more female directors, and many ESG-focused investors have been voting against nominating committees that lack enough diversity.

BlackRock Inc began writing letters to companies without two women on their boards in 2018, asking them to explain the reasoning. State Street Corp. said 681 public companies with previously all-male boards have added females since the company installed its Fearless Girl statue three years ago on Wall Street.

Last year marked the first time that every company in the S&P 500 had a woman on their boards.

Globally, the rise of women on boards has been uneven. Countries including Israel, Norway, France, Belgium, Italy, India and Australia have national quotas aimed at increasing representation. Boards in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly those in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, have lagged behind, with less than 10 per cent of members in those regions being female, according to Corporate Women Directors International.

Goldman also plans to press corporate boards globally on including a variety of diverse board members, and sometimes more than one woman, in its engagement plans. It also will connect companies with women in its network that it believes would be good board candidates.

“We know diversity drives better performance,” Koch said. “We’ve seen it in our own business, therefore we are demanding it of our portfolio companies .”

Published on March 11, 2020

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