Forum Home Page [see Broadridge note below]

 The Shareholder ForumTM`

Fair Investor Access

This public program was initiated in collaboration with The Conference Board Task Force on Corporate/Investor Engagement and with Thomson Reuters support of communication technologies. The Forum is providing continuing reports of the issues that concern this program's participants, as summarized  in the January 5, 2015 Forum Report of Conclusions.

"Fair Access" Home Page

"Fair Access" Program Reference

 

Related Projects 2012-2019

For graphed analyses of company and related industry returns, see

Returns on Corporate Capital

See also analyses of

Shareholder Support Rankings

 

 

 

Forum distribution:

Corporate board adviser reports directors experiencing ESG fatigue

 

For the full survey report from which data is cited in the article below (primarily in the report's pages 13-22), see

 

Source: Corporate Secretary Magazine, October 15, 2019 article; also published in the affiliated IR Magazine


 

Ben Maiden

Editor-at-large

 

Directors tiring of diversity and ESG focus, survey finds

Oct 15, 2019

Almost two thirds say investors devote too much attention to board gender diversity

Diversity and ESG issues have been prominent on investor and board agendas in recent years, but a new survey suggests some directors are becoming fatigued by the attention placed on these issues.

According to the PwC survey, 63 percent of directors polled say investors devote too much attention to board gender diversity, up from 35 percent last year. Fifty-eight percent have the same view of racial/ethnic diversity, an increase from 33 percent in 2018.

The proportion of directors who say board gender diversity is very important had been growing steadily, from 27 percent in 2013 to 46 percent in 2018, but has notably declined to 38 percent this year. Similarly, those saying racial/ethnic diversity is very important rose from 23 percent in 2013 to 34 percent last year then dropped to 26 percent in 2019.

These changes are happening as US companies, particularly in the S&P 500, gradually increase levels of diversity, particularly in terms of female representation. The survey also finds that more directors than ever believe board diversity has benefits: 94 percent say it brings unique perspectives, 87 percent say it enhances board performance, 84 percent say it improves relationships with investors and 76 percent say it enhances the performance of the company.

This apparent discrepancy may be attributed to the fatigue of being continually told by investors and others about the need to boost diversity, the report’s authors suggest. ‘Boards have been hearing about it, hearing about it and hearing about it and they’re moving on,’ Paula Loop, leader of PwC’s Governance Insights Center, tells Corporate Secretary.

Despite this, the survey shows continued support for companies taking action to improve diversity. More than half (52 percent) of directors polled say they strongly back board policies of always interviewing a diverse slate of candidates and 49 percent strongly approve of search firm policies of always supplying diverse slates of candidates. But almost a third (28 percent) strongly – and a further 39 percent somewhat – support the notion that boards will naturally become more diverse over time.

Three quarters of respondents say their board is looking to increase its diversity and are more likely to say this is due to a desire for diversity of thought (51 percent) than to be politically correct (13 percent). But the attributes they say are important in generating that diverse thinking are changing.

Large majorities continue to say gender and racial/ethnicity are important, but just 39 percent say diversity of socioeconomic background is important for diversity of thought, down from 67 percent in 2017. Fifty-four percent say an international background is important, down from 77 percent two years ago. There are also decreases in assigning importance to age and board tenure.

Over the past two years a growing number of companies have started including board matrices in their proxy statements, Loop notes. But they are also starting to recognize the complexity of assembling a board that features people with variety along gender, ethnic, age and background lines, and increasingly have cyber-security experience, she adds.

ESG AND ENGAGEMENT

ESG has become a key item on investors’ agendas, and industry professionals expect that to continue into the 2020 proxy season. But a growing number of directors are baulking against this pressure. According to the PwC survey, 56 percent of directors say investors’ focus on environmental/sustainability issues is excessive, up from 29 percent in 2018. Forty-seven percent say the focus on CSR is excessive, an increase from 29 percent last year.

According to Loop, directors are beginning to feel their corporate agendas are being ‘hijacked’ by shareholders seeking ESG-based actions. But she says there is also widespread confusion among directors as to what ESG means, so boards may already be discussing ESG issues without realizing it. ‘Companies aren’t telling their stories very well,’ Loop adds. 

On a positive note, the survey finds that directors are taking an increasingly positive view of shareholder engagement. Although IR and governance teams have in the past sometimes struggled to get directors involved in discussions with investors, 51 percent of respondents say a member of the board other than the CEO took part in shareholder engagement over the past year.

Almost all (94 percent) of respondents say the correct investor representatives were present at the engagement meeting, up from 73 percent in 2016. There are also marked increases in the proportion of directors saying investors were well prepared for the engagement (91 percent, up from 63 percent) and that engagement had or was likely to have a positive effect on proxy voting (87 percent, up from 59 percent).  

This reflects increasingly mature engagement programs, Loop explains. Importantly, there is a greater ability to prepare an agenda for meetings ahead of time, which leads to more productive discussions. ‘I think directors have learned a lot about this process [in part because] investors have pressed them to up their game,’ Loop adds.

 

Copyright IR Media Group Ltd. 1995 - 2019 All rights reserved.

 

 

This Forum program was open, free of charge, to anyone concerned with investor interests in the development of marketplace standards for expanded access to information for securities valuation and shareholder voting decisions. As stated in the posted Conditions of Participation, the purpose of this public Forum's program was to provide decision-makers with access to information and a free exchange of views on the issues presented in the program's Forum Summary. Each participant was expected to make independent use of information obtained through the Forum, subject to the privacy rights of other participants.  It is a Forum rule that participants will not be identified or quoted without their explicit permission.

This Forum program was initiated in 2012 in collaboration with The Conference Board and with Thomson Reuters support of communication technologies to address issues and objectives defined by participants in the 2010 "E-Meetings" program relevant to broad public interests in marketplace practices. The website is being maintained to provide continuing reports of the issues addressed in the program, as summarized in the January 5, 2015 Forum Report of Conclusions.

Inquiries about this Forum program and requests to be included in its distribution list may be addressed to access@shareholderforum.com.

The information provided to Forum participants is intended for their private reference, and permission has not been granted for the republishing of any copyrighted material. The material presented on this web site is the responsibility of Gary Lutin, as chairman of the Shareholder Forum.

Shareholder Forum™ is a trademark owned by The Shareholder Forum, Inc., for the programs conducted since 1999 to support investor access to decision-making information. It should be noted that we have no responsibility for the services that Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc., introduced for review in the Forum's 2010 "E-Meetings" program and has since been offering with the “Shareholder Forum” name, and we have asked Broadridge to use a different name that does not suggest our support or endorsement.