Midwest investors mark progress on board diversity

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The Midwest Investors Diversity Initiative had a fruitful proxy season engaging with companies to increase board diversity in the Midwest, it said Wednesday.

The 16-member alliance of pension funds and other institutional investors with a collective $820 billion in assets under management engaged 21 companies during the past year. Six companies appointed women or people of color to boards of directors and seven committed to adopt policies prioritizing diversity as a factor in candidate searches.

The group was formed in 2016, and so far has engaged 75 companies, resulting in 90 women and people of color receiving board appointments and 34 companies adopting a diverse search policy.

MIDI helps guide companies on how to diversify their boards. On candidate searches, MIDI advocates that companies adopt a policy to include diverse board candidates; follow the “Rooney rule,” requiring that women and people of color be interviewed for every open board seat and third-party search firms include them in the initial pool.

Illinois State Treasurer Michael Frerichs, co-leader of the group, said in the release that “many corporate leaders agree that diversity benefits their operations and board performance. Our focus is to help them navigate this change.” Co-leader Maureen O’Brien, vice president and corporate governance director at Segal Marco Advisors, said that inclusive recruitment “is a key requirement for any company aspiring to seat a diverse set of directors best positioned to drive corporate success.”

MIDI members include the Minnesota State Board of Investment, Ohio Public Employees Retirement System and Ohio School Employees Retirement System, along with the SEIU Master Trust, Wespath Benefits and Investments, Seventh Generation Interfaith Coalition for Responsible Investment, Sundance Family Foundation, Ariel Investments, Trinity Health and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.