Norway wealth fund tells firms to put more women as directors

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    OSLO- Norway’s $1.3 trillion sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, wants the companies it invests in globally to boost the number of women on their boards and to consider setting targets if fewer than 30 percent of their directors are female, top fund officials told Reuters.

    One of the world’s largest investors, the fund holds stakes in around 9,200 companies worldwide, owning 1.5 percent of all listed stocks. It has set the pace on a host of issues in the environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) field.

    Boards where either gender has less than 30 percent representation should consider setting targets for gender diversity and report on progress, the fund said in a position paper shared with Reuters ahead of its publication later on Monday.

    “We may phrase it politely, but it is pretty clear what we think,” Chief Executive Nicolai Tangen said in an interview.

    “What we want to see is better representation of women on the boards,” added Carine Smith Ihenacho, the fund’s chief governance and compliance officer.

    “Diversity is good for the board because it brings better perspective, it is better for decision-making and increasingly important for the legitimacy of companies,” said Smith Ihenacho.

    “It (a lack of female representation) could also be a red flag, that a company does not have a good process to recruit the best director.”

    Most other big institutional investors have a general request for boards to be diverse, and some are increasingly prepared to oppose boards they consider are not diverse enough, but they typically have not set precise targets for female representation.

    In 2003 Norway became the first country in the world to impose a gender quota, requiring nearly 500 firms, including 175 firms listed on the Oslo bourse, to raise the proportion of women on their boards to 40 percent.

    Some other countries have followed along similar lines, such as Britain, which is aiming for 33 percent representation on FTSE 350 boards.

    Starting with the upcoming AGM season, the Norwegian fund will apply pressure by voting against appointments to the nomination committees of companies that do not have at least two women on the board.