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Investment Association: FTSE 350 companies need to improve gender diversity

Legal & General Investment Management releases governance report about engagement with companies

FTSE 350 companies need to change their ways when it comes to female representation at the leadership level, said the Investment Association, which represents U.K. money managers.

The association and the Hampton-Alexander Review, a government-commissioned group, have written to 35 of the largest firms listed in the FTSE 350 index to call for change. The Hampton-Alexander Review aims to increase the number of women in senior roles at FTSE 350 firms by 2020, in addition to a number of recommendations including that boards have 33% female representation by that same year.

The two groups said in a joint news release that 14 of the companies contacted are FTSE 100-listed, including those with all-male executive committees. The news release said BP PLC and Smurfit Kappa Group PLC have all-male executive committees, while Persimmon PLC and TUI AG's combined executive committees and direct reports have low proportions of women. Companies have been asked to explain their poor gender balance and to outline steps they have taken to move toward the targets set by the Hampton-Alexander Review.

In the FTSE 250, the Investment Association wrote to 11 companies with all-male boards — including Sports Direct and Stobart Group. The IA said it also wrote to 10 firms that chose not to report gender-diversity data to the Hampton-Alexander Review last year.

The Investment Association, which represents U.K. money managers with 6.9 trillion ($9.8 trillion) in assets under management, called on the firms to take action.

"The body of research is clear: Firms with a diverse management team and (employee) pipeline make better decisions and drive innovation," said Chris Cummings, CEO of the Investment Association, in the release. "The target of 33% for women in senior leadership positions by 2020 absolutely aligns with investors' desire to see the companies they invest in recognizing diversity as a critical business issue."

Mr. Cummings added that investors "are becoming restless and want companies to take action."

Separately, Legal & General Investment Management said it had stepped up pressure on boards to address climate change, diversity and other environmental, social and governance-related issues.

The firm said in its corporate governance report Tuesday that it had opposed the reappointment of 2,807 company directors in 2017, up from 2,362 in 2016; and voted against at least one resolution at 59% of companies, vs. 56% in 2016.

The money manager, which has 983.3 billion in assets under management, has also written to many of the CEOs of the world's largest firms to set out how it expects them to address climate change, diversity, long-term strategy and shareholder rights, as well as other issues.

Among top themes discussed by LGIM with the companies were board composition, executive pay, climate change and succession planning.

"Our clients are increasingly asking us about a broader range of topics, which has helped us to enhance our approach and to put emerging issues on the agenda," said Sacha Sadan, director of corporate governance at LGIM, in a news release accompanying the report. "There are, however, themes that continue to resonate, and throughout the year we've seen a focus on gender diversity, climate change and governance and culture, all of which we are continuing to engage on with companies."