Miranda Beacham, head of ESG at Aegon Asset Management, comments on International Women’s Day (IWD), stating that more women are needed in executive roles.
“Having been in the industry for too long, I remember clearly the moment it dawned on me how important diversity should be to boards.
“One voting season in the late 90’s or early ‘00’s I was analysing Mothercare and N Brown. Both companies that largely cater to women through their brands and yet at most there was one woman between the two boards. From there my interest grew on how important it is for companies to have a good balance on their boards and throughout their organisation is – particularly to reflect the core target of their business.
“Through the years, there have been many conversations with chairs of companies, some who quickly picked up on the necessity to ensure the board reflected the customer base and employee base as well as benefitting from diversity of thought around the boardroom table. For others, the conversations stayed firmly in ‘the right man (literally) for the job’ camp and bemoaned the lack of suitable females that could join them.
“However, through sustained effort of Aegon AM as well as many other investors, collective bodies and regulators, there has been tremendous progress. The recent FTSE women leaders review showed that FTSE 100 and FTSE 350 board seats topped 40% held by women for the first time. This work is not finished, however. The majority of these board positions are non-executive, so we will be looking to see more female inhabitants of the executive positions as well as chair.
“The best companies are looking not only at their boards, but also how the organisation may benefit from a greater degree of diversity. One such good example is Softcat PLC. Through numerous conversations with the chair of the company, it became very clear that he was looking to increase diversity in a number of ways.
“The company workforce had a large majority of males when I started to talk to them in 2018 and it has been encouraging to see steady progress including signing up to the Tech Talent Charter and publishing gender and ethnicity pay gaps. As of 2022 the workforce had increased to 33% female and 27% of the management are women. They have also won numerous awards for their inclusion and diversity efforts.
“I believe this has benefitted the culture of the organisation. My efforts in this regard has been welcomed by some and not so much by others, but I will continue to discuss this topic as I still believe there is room to improve.”