CalSTRS pushing Facebook for more women

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New York - Christopher Ailman, chief investment officer of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, said Facebook should have more women on its board of directors.

“We’re going to keep pushing on them,” Ailman said today in a Bloomberg Television interview with Erik Schatzker and Stephanie Ruhle at the Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California.

“There are too many ugly white guys on boards.”

Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, joined the board of the world’s largest social-networking site in June 2012, a month after the IPO.

There’s now one more female director, Susan Desmond-Hellman, chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, on the eight-member board.

CalSTRS, the second-biggest US public pension system, sent a letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg in 2012 before the company held its initial public offering that May.

It added to public pressure on the company to diversify its all-male board.

“I think it shamed Mark Zuckerberg into adding at least one woman to his board,” Ailman said.

Tucker Bounds, a spokesman for Facebook, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by e-mail or phone.

CalSTRS, based in Sacramento, California, owns at least 5.4 million Facebook shares, according to Michael Sicilia, a spokesman.

Ailman oversees the CalSTRS investment portfolio, which had about $183 billion in assets as of March 31, according to the pension fund’s website.

 

‘Reach Outside’

 

Companies can’t look only for female chief executives to be on their boards because there aren’t enough females in those positions, Ailman said.

“You got to reach down, push through your comfort zone,” he said.

“Management in the US isn’t willing to reach outside the box and they need to. There’s too much group think going on.”

During a panel discussion today at the conference, Ailman called it “pathetic” that Facebook had an all-male board at the time of its IPO.

“We embarrass him and he throws in one female director, an insider,” Ailman said.

“It takes two to make a motion. To us that was pathetic.”

More gender diversity on boards and in senior management will lead to better investment returns, said Ailman, whose fund provides retirement benefits to more than 868,000 California educators, 72 percent of them female.

 

Pressing Companies

 

Helena Morrissey, chief executive of London-based Newton Investment Management, said on the panel that the 30 Percent Club, which she founded in 2010 to press companies to employ that many female directors by 2015, had succeeded in opening up most of all-male boards in the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE 100 Index.

“It’s pried open the lid on the cozy club that has been the board room,” she said of the initiative.

“It’s no longer perceived as a women’s issue but as an imperative to having a modern, effective board.”

The 30 Percent Club today announced a push to get US companies to employ that many female directors and senior managers.

The US initiative’s 24 founding supporters include Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett and BlackRock Inc.

Chairman and chief executive Larry Fink.

Bloomberg Chairman Peter Grauer is the founding US chairman.

Bloomberg is the parent of Bloomberg News.

 

‘More Competitive’

 

Matthew Winkler, Bloomberg News’s editor-in-chief, said that once the news organisation started paying more attention to women in the global economy “we were suddenly much more competitive.”

From a business news perspective, “it is increasingly apparent that wherever poverty is greatest the gender gap is widest,” said Winkler, who was also on the panel.

“If one is really committed to reporting on the world as it is there has to be a commitment to addressing that fundamental reality.”

In the US, women make up about 53 percent of the workforce in financial services, 12 percent of executive officers and 18 percent of directors, according to Catalyst, a New York-based research and advocacy group for female executives.

Events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis “would have played out differently to very differently had there been more diverse business teams,” said Sallie Krawcheck, the former Bank of America and Citigroupexecutive who now heads 85 Broads Unlimited LLC, a network that promotes women as business leaders.

She cited research showing that companies with more gender diversity at higher ranks have higher returns on equity, lower risk, better client focus and great innovation.

Ailman echoed her comment about 2008, saying, “We see Wall Street as committing way too much group think.” - Bloomberg News



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