Business

Going against a global trend, Japan lags on boardroom diversity: study

by Lee Miller and Livia Yap

Bloomberg

The “old boys club” in the boardroom is alive and well — and most prevalent among the biggest Japanese and Chinese companies.

French businesses meanwhile offer the most gender diversity on their boards of directors, according to a Bloomberg analysis of the boards of the world’s 500 largest companies by market value.

Eleven percent of those companies worldwide didn’t have a single woman on the board at the end of their most recent fiscal year, according to data compiled from company statements and filings. Of those with none, 15 were based in Japan and 13 in China.

“Asia is still behind on best practices regarding board diversity,” said Marleen Dieleman, an associate professor of strategy and policy at the National University of Singapore. “Most boards in Asia do recognize the value of diversity. Yet, board chairs do not necessarily feel the urgency to change.”

Japanese companies without any female directors included telecom operator SoftBank Group Corp., Nintendo Co., Uniqlo-parent Fast Retailing Co. and 7-Eleven owner Seven & I Holdings.

Chinese companies with no women on their boards include Tencent Holdings Ltd., SAIC Motor Corp. and Kweichow Moutai Co. — the nation’s largest social-network operator, auto seller and liquor distiller, respectively. Also on the list was JD.com Inc., whose founder, Chairman and CEO Liu Qiangdong, was arrested last weekend in Minnesota on suspicion of rape. He was released after questioning without being charged and has returned to China.

Japan and China are operating against a global trend.

The Equilar Gender Diversity Index, which tracks the percentage of women on boards of Russell 3000 companies, showed that 35 percent of new directorships went to women in the quarter that ended in June. That’s double the rate in 2014.

“Technological disruption, competition coming from outside the industry, changing demographics, culture and risk — all of these forces are making it more important for the boardroom to include directors with a mix of backgrounds and experience,” Susan Angele, senior adviser at the KPMG Board Leadership Center, said in a statement.

France, among several European nations to adopt regulatory quotas on gender balance in boardrooms, ranked at the top for directorial gender diversity, Bloomberg data show. Five of the six companies with a 50-50 boardroom split in terms of gender were French, including banks BNP Paribas SA and Societe Generale SA.

General Motors Co., which has a female chairman and CEO in Mary Barra, is the sole non-French company with a board that’s balanced. The Detroit-based automaker recently promoted another woman, Dhivya Suryadevara, as chief financial officer.

Another French firm, Kering SA, owner of luxury brands including Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent, was the only company among the world’s 500 largest by market value with more women than men on its board, the data show.

A growing number of companies are putting their money behind diversity. Solactive AG, Barclays PLC and State Street Corp. each have funds or indexes based on gender diversity. Bloomberg has a gender-equality index and leadership ranking.

SEAF, a private-equity fund-management company that focuses on emerging markets, last month introduced a scorecard comprising six categories to assess investments: pay equity, leadership and governance, workforce participation, benefits and professional development, workplace environment and women-powered value chains.

Among the 10 biggest companies by value, Amazon.com Inc.’s 30 percent female representation is highest. Eight of those companies are U.S.-based and two are from China: Tencent, with no women on its board, and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. at 9 percent. All have market values of more than $350 billion.

French oil company Total SA, which ranks 50th in the world by value at $161 billion, is the largest company with a board that has a 50-50 gender balance.

The analysis assessed the 500 largest publicly traded companies by market value through Sept. 5. The percentages were based on each company’s most-recent fiscal year end, meaning the composition of some boards has changed. Bloomberg wasn’t able to obtain or calculate figures for a dozen of the 500 companies.