British Columbia Investment Management Corporation (BCI), the investment manager for the public sector of the province of British Columbia, is raising its expectations for the inclusion of female directors on company boards in Japan.
That's according to its updated proxy voting guidelines for 2023.
The institutional investor will now advocate Japanese companies to have at least one female director on their boards.
“Japan is the first market in Asia we are targeting on gender diversity. Our expectation of one female director on boards reflects Japan’s recently updated Corporate Governance Code, which encourages companies to increase the number of female directors. Japan is a laggard in gender equity rankings, coming in second last among OECD countries in a recent index published by The Economist,” the spokesperson said.
BCI will vote against the chair of the nominating or governance committee if a board lacks adequate female representation, although it will consider mitigating factors – such as a policy with targets and timelines – where practical, according to the revised proxy guidelines.
Japan’s Corporate Governance Code was revised for the second time in 2021, following its introduction in 2015 and an update in 2018.
One of the key pillars of the revisions is voluntary measurable targets to promote diversity in senior management. The code, however, is mainly applicable on a “comply or explain” basis.
BCI voted at 252 Japanese company meetings in 2022, the spokesperson said.
About 5.6% of BCI’s total assets under management were invested in Asia Pacific as of March 31, 2022.
BROADER ESG STRATEGY
“BCI maintains its expectation of 30% female representation on boards where practical to implement, while increasing our expectation for Japanese boards to have at least one female director,” the new proxy voting guidelines said.
The guideline for 30% representation of women on boards applies to 20 markets, including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Western Europe.
“These are all regions where adequate data can be sourced. This guideline may be expanded to more regions over time," the spokesperson said.
BCI invests globally on behalf of 11 public sector pension plans, which make up about 78% of its assets under management, while three insurance funds make up another 20%.
Special purpose funds including public trusts, endowments, and government bodies needing investment management services make up the balance.
Proxy voting guidelines typically form part of an institutional investor’s broader ESG strategy, enabling them to engage and influence portfolio companies to improve performance on different metrics. This is in line with their role as stewards of clients’ assets.
STEPPING UP PRESSURE
In Japan, only 15.5% of executive and director roles are women, according a recent report titled Women on Boards by index provider MSCI. That's lower than the MSCI World average of 31.3%, the report said.
Another survey on female representation on boards by BNP Paribas Asset Management also showed that Japan and Korea have relatively low representation compared to other Asian markets such as Singapore, India and Malaysia,, said Jane Ho, head of stewardship, at BNP Paribas AM.
“Although geographic differences play a part and should be viewed in the context of economic, socio-cultural and regulatory factors – we also noted that companies with large market capitalisations tend to integrate diversity issues more easily than smaller companies.
"Similarly, the existence - or absence - of legally-imposed quotas, as we have recently seen in Europe, also impacts the growth of female board membership,” she told AsianInvestor.
Several studies show that diversity on boards can lead to improved operational performance. The latest was a WTW paper released on March 8 that notes investments teams with gender diversity generated net excess returns of 45 basis points per annum over teams that were not as gender diverse.
Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, or CPP Investments, earlier this month also said it was raising expectations for company boards in Asia by advocating for them to have at least two women on boards, up from one.
Canadian institutional investors have been increasingly active in Asia in recent years. Most of the large pension funds such as CPP Investments and CDPQ already have offices in the region.
In a separate development, the $153 billion entity also hired its first infrastructure-related expert in Mumbai, India, a spokesperson told AsianInvestor.
Helly Ajmera has joined as director and head of India investments on BCI’s infrastructure and renewable resources team, the spokesperson said. She joined BCI Mumbai in January from consultancy EY.
The Canadian entity recently opened an office in New York and another office in London is expected.
Its other offices are located in Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia.
This story has been updated with quotes from BNP Paribas AM.