Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

BlackRock Puts Its Votes Behind Proposals to Get Women on Boards

  • Asset manager voted against board members over diversity
  • Firm supported eight board diversity resolutions this year

BlackRock Inc. is holding corporate boards’ feet to the fire on diversity.

The world’s largest asset manager said it supported eight out of nine shareholder proposals on board diversity at annual meetings in the U.S. and Canada during the second quarter this year, according to a report posted on its website Thursday. At five of those companies, the firm said that it also voted against board members on the nominating committee "for failure to address investor concerns" on the issue.

The move marks a shift for the firm, which had supported only 2 out of 98 board diversity proposals from 2012 to 2016, according to a review of public filings by Bloomberg. Big investors were more willing to withhold votes in order to put pressure on directors this year than in any year since 2011, according to ISS Corporate Solutions.

“We have engaged on the topic of gender diversity for many years but it was the first year we have decided to vote against members of the nomination committee of men-only boards in a more systematic manner,” BlackRock spokesman Ed Sweeney said in an email Thursday.

BlackRock didn’t identify which companies it voted against. Firms including Tyson Foods Inc., Dentsply Sirona Inc., Continental Resources Inc. and Restaurant Brands International Inc. received shareholder proposals on board diversity this year. BlackRock’s own board includes four women.

Investor Proposals

Shareholders who submitted the proposals asked companies this year to include qualified women and minorities in their board candidate pools and to report on progress toward diversity. The New York State Common Retirement Fund said in March that it withdrew a similar proposal at GoPro Inc. after the company agreed to amend its board committee charter to seek diverse director nominees.

As part of a push to improve transparency around its voting, BlackRock said earlier this year diverse boards “make better decisions” and that it planned to focus on the issue in discussions with companies ahead of annual meetings.

“Ideally, we believe boards should commit to adding at least two women directors,” BlackRock said in the report on Thursday.

Women lost ground on new board seats for the first time in eight years last year, with just under 28 percent of the 431 open board seats in Fortune 500 companies going to a woman, according to executive recruiter Heidrick & Struggles.

— With assistance by Jeff Green

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