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Racial inequity 'a systemic risk' – State Street Global Advisors CEO

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Racial inequity 'a systemic risk' – State Street Global Advisors CEO

One of the world's largest asset managers is stepping up the pressure on public companies to disclose racial diversity data.

In 2021, State Street Global Advisors Inc.'s main stewardship priorities will be the systemic risks associated with climate change and a lack of racial and ethnic diversity, CEO Cyrus Taraporevala wrote in a Jan. 11 letter to boards of directors.

In an August 2020 letter, the firm urged public companies to disclose more concrete data on their racial diversity or face pushback from the asset manager in proxy meetings. Taraporevala built on this pledge in the Jan. 11 letter, outlining several specific proxy voting practices for the coming two years.

"The preponderance of evidence demonstrates clearly and unequivocally that racial and ethnic inequity is a systemic risk that threatens lives, companies, communities, and our economy — and is material to long-term sustainable returns," Taraporevala wrote. The CEO called the lack of publicly available data on race and ethnic diversity "our primary challenge as investors."

To begin addressing that data gap, starting in the 2021 proxy season SSGA will vote against the chair of the nominating and governance committee if a company in the S&P 500 or FTSE 100 does not disclose the racial diversity of its board. And the following year, SSGA will vote against those committee chairs at companies that do not have at least one director from an "underrepresented community."

Also starting in the 2022 proxy season, SSGA will vote against the chair of the compensation committee at S&P 500 companies that do not disclose their Equal Employment Opportunity-1, or EEO-1, report. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires U.S employers with 100 or more employees to annually file the EEO-1 report, which includes information about employee race/ethnicity and gender. At present, few companies make this information public, though some sustainability-focused investors like Trillium Asset Management LLC have been pushing companies to do so for years.

On the climate front, SSGA said it will focus its efforts on companies vulnerable to the transition risks of climate change. The firm is taking this approach ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, or COP26, taking place in Glasgow in November, and as many countries begin to require climate risk disclosures.

SSGA had $3.15 trillion in assets under management as of Sept. 30, 2020.