World’s largest sovereign wealth fund piles pressure on firms to put more women on boards

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Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, which is the world’s largest at over 11 trillion Norwegian kroner ($1.3 trillion), is wielding its power to push the companies it invests in to put more women on their boards. 

Norges Bank Investment Management, which manages the fund, set out its position on board diversity in a paper released Monday. 

It said the companies it invests in should consider setting targets for gender diversity where either gender has less than 30% representation on their boards and to report on progress.

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has a small stake in 9,202 companies, or around 1.5% of all the world’s listed companies, across 74 countries. 

NBIM said that while more women had been appointed to boards in recent decades, on average just 26% of board members in G7 countries are female, yet in Europe, regulatory requirements for women’s representation vary between 30%-40%. 

“While there are many different dimensions to diversity, we are particularly concerned by persistent underrepresentation of women on boards,” NBIM said in its position paper. 

NBIM argued that such underrepresentation might be a sign that the board is recruiting “too narrowly” and it was concerned that companies lacking diversity wouldn’t be able to maintain the trust of its customers, investors and society more broadly. 

A spokeswoman for Norway’s sovereign wealth fund told CNBC via email that diversity on boards helped to bring “different perspectives to decision-making” and was also “increasingly important for the legitimacy of companies.” 

NBIM said in its statement that it expected the boards to “regularly assess whether it collectively has the right mix of competences and backgrounds.”

Based on its experience with mandatory gender quotas for company boards, NBIM said it did not believe that pushing for gender diversity would “crowd out” other qualifications when looking at candidates.

In 2003, Norway became the first country in the world to implement a gender quota, requiring public and larger private companies to increase the proportion of women on their boards to at least 40%.

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