Dispatches from the NAPF conference in Edinburgh: It’s time to end unrepresentative trustee boards 

The issue of women on trustee boards - or rather, the severe lack thereof - is something we have lamented in PI’s sister magazine, Engaged Investor.

Helena Morrissey, chief executive of Newton Investment Management and Joanna Matthews, chair of the Royal Mail Pensions Trustees, took the stage at the National Association of Pension Funds’ investment conference to discuss bridging the representation gap.

Diversity on FTSE boards has improved greatly in recent years, Morrissey reported. She was modest about this, but plenty of credit must go to her influential 30 Percent Club, which brings together chairmen of UK companies who are committed to ending the ‘male, pale and stale’ status quo by ensuring that women make up at least 30% of their senior management teams.

The same old dynamics persist on pension fund trustee boards

Sadly though, as Engaged Investor reported last year, the same old dynamics persist on pension fund trustee boards.

Inspiring women chairs like Matthews remain very much a minority and pension scheme boards predominantly remain the preserve of white, middle-aged men.

There are no quick-fix solutions to this problem, unless you believe in quotas.

Change is frustratingly gradual and reliant on initiatives which are difficult to measure in concrete terms: senior figures mentoring junior staff, for instance.

Morrissey believes changes need to begin in childhood

Morrissey believes changes need to begin in childhood, with parents encouraging their daughters to be confident in their abilities and unafraid to seek success on the same terms as men.

The pensions industry can’t do anything about the way that children are raised. But it certainly can take steps to make the workplace more diverse.

Pension schemes must make sure their boards evolve to represent them

It is incumbent on the industry to do so. Auto-enrolment is introducing a whole new tranche of savers, many of whom are from a younger generation; pension schemes must make sure their boards evolve to represent them.

Morrissey’s 30 Percent Club has galvanised FTSE boardrooms by asking them to commit to a measurable target. The club also provides informal support and networking for women, many of whom have not always been able to access these opportunities.

Engaged Investor’s research last year - which showed over 80% of pension scheme trustees are male - demonstrates that pension schemes are lagging behind the curve when it comes to representation.

More must be done: it is quite clear that we need a similar initiative for pension schemes. It is time for the industry to step up to the plate.

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