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SSGA expands diversity push to Japanese, Canadian companies

State Street Global Advisors announced Tuesday it will expand its guidance on gender diversity on corporate boards to Canadian and Japanese companies.

In March, the money manager sent letters to 600 U.S., U.K. and Australian companies that it invests in on behalf of its clients, informing them that it would vote against the chairs of their nominating committees if there were no female board directors or candidates. The firm also released six guidelines to help companies increase gender diversity on their corporate boards.

SSGA now plans on sharing this guidance with more than 1,200 public Japanese and Canadian companies in which it invests. It has not yet been determined whether the firm will conduct a letter writing campaign to Japanese and Canadian companies with no female board members, said Matt DiGuiseppe, vice president and head of Americas asset stewardship at SSGA, in an email.

"We'll continue to prioritize and emphasize the critical importance of responsible investing in portfolios," said Rakhi Kumar, managing director and head of ESG investments and asset stewardship at SSGA, in the release. "As an asset manager, it's our mission to collaborate and engage with companies, not simply impose our point of view, to help them realize the financial benefit of gender diverse leadership. There's much work to be done and we look forward to applying our knowledge and experience to other countries."

According to the release, 55% of the companies in Japan's Topix 500 and 40% of the 700 companies in the Toronto Stock Exchange do not have any women on their boards.

As a result of SSGA's earlier efforts, 42 companies in the U.S. and U.K. have already committed to increasing gender diversity on their boards, including seven that have already added women to their boards. Of the 600 companies who received letters in March, SSGA ultimately voted against 400 that had not taken any steps to increase gender diversity on their boards.

"The data shows that all other things being equal, companies with gender-diverse boards also have stronger long-term financial performance," added Ron O'Hanley, president and chief operating officer of State Street, in the release. "Amongst major asset owners and managers, more than $15 trillion in shareholder assets have been committed to increasing gender diversity on corporate boards since we placed 'Fearless Girl,' and this expansion to Canada and Japan will further these efforts to drive better long-term performance and returns for investors."

To symbolize the power of women in business, SSGA placed a statue of a young girl facing the iconic Charging Bull in New York's financial district on March 7, one day before International Women's Day.

Separately, SSGA is now an associate member of the Responsible Investment Association in Canada, which seeks to advance the incorporation of environmental, social and governance factors into investment management and selection.