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Wants more women on boards, eyes developing countries


Concerned about larger pay packages for CEOs

By Gwladys Fouche

ARENDAL, Norway, Aug 18 (Reuters) – Norway’s $1.4 trillion wealth fund, the world’s single largest stock market investor, is to step up pressure on the companies it invests in to have more women board members and to also reduce excessive executive pay, a top fund official said.

The fund is one of a growing number investors and policymakers pushing to put more women in company boardrooms.Having a broader range of experiences around a boardroom table has been shown to improve decision-making and corporate culture.

The fund holds stakes in around 9,200 companies globally, equivalent to 1.5% of all listed stocks and has set the pace on many issues in the field of environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG).

Its latest move comes as the fund takes stock of its ESG engagement with companies so far this year.On Wednesday, it published for the first time an analysis of its voting record during this year’s annual shareholder meeting season, where investors vote on issues including executive pay.

Since 2021, the fund has campaigned to boost the number of women on company boards and to consider targets if fewer than 30% of directors are female.

“This year we said (to companies) that ‘if you don’t have even one woman on the board, we will vote against you’. We will step that up next year,” Carine Smith Ihenacho, the fund’s chief governance and compliance officer, told Reuters in an interview.

She said specific details of how the fund will do this have not been decided.One option could be to expand the fund’s focus to more countries – at the moment the fund concentrates on the United States, Europe and Japan.

“So far, we haven’t looked at developing markets,” said Smith Ihenacho. “We can (also) step it up in Japan, increase the (minimum) threshold from one to two (women on a board).”

The fund has also put executive pay in the spotlight and now plans to also step up the pressure, though details of how are not decided.

“We are concerned. The large packages are getting larger, and from the figures we have seen, the larger packages are increasing more than the median of packages, and more than inflation,” said Smith Ihenacho.

So far this year, the fund voted against 1 in every 10 CEO pay packages, more than in recent years, and including against a growing number in the United States, its report showed.

This year for the first time the fund analysed the structure of all U.S.pay packages above $20 million to see if they aligned with long-term value creation.

As a result of its analysis, the fund voted against more than half of pay packages above this level, the report showed.

The fund voted against the pay of Coca-Cola’s James Quincey, Apple’s Tim Cook and PepsiCo’s Ramon Laguarta, the fund’s voting record showed.

(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche in Arendal; editing by Jane Merriman)

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