Investor Base: Letters of intent

It is fair to say that the corporate world – and indeed the private equity industry itself – still has an issue with gender diversity. Now a group of big US institutional investors is trying to help change that, via an initiative called the Thirty Percent Coalition.

Led by The California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), the Coalition represents institutional investors with more than $3 trillion in assets under management. Formed in 2011 and co-chaired by Janice Hester-Amey of CalSTRS and Tim Smith of Walden Asset Management, its goal is for women to hold 30 percent of board seats across public companies by the end of 2015.

In October, the Coalition said that it had reached out to 100 companies in the Russell 1000 Index without female board directors, urging them to embrace gender diversity. It subsequently “initiated engagement” with companies in its portfolio on the issue; apparently, 17 of them have since appointed women to their boards.

“Corporate boards should reflect the diversity of the communities in which they operate and from which they profit,” said California State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who sits on the CalSTRS and CalPERS governing boards.

But there’s still a long way to go: a Catalyst 2013 census of Fortune 500 companies found that women held only 16.9 percent of corporate board seats in 2013, more or less unchanged from the 16.6 percent in 2012.

For private equity, this is a sign of things to come. Money talks, and if enough big institutions like CalSTRS – which has an $186.4 billion portfolio, 11.5 percent of which is in private equity – are keen to press this issue, GPs will pretty quickly fall into line.

The role of women in private equity will be examined in detail at PEI’s inaugural Women in Private Equity Forum Europe event, which will be held in London on 2 and 3 December 2014.