Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s biggest, will from now on vote against the nomination of all-male boards in Japanese companies, a senior fund official said Tuesday.
In a bid to promote diversity and gender equality, the fund, currently worth more than 15 trillion kroner ($1.34 trillion), already rejects nominations to boards for companies in Europe and North America that do not include at least two women.
Japan, where the business world has long been very male-dominated, had been given a grace period.
“Of the developed markets, we hadn’t started to vote against companies in Japan, because they were so far behind that we really would have hit a large number of companies,” Carine Smith Ihenacho, head of governance and compliance at the fund, told AFP.
In 2021, the fund gave Japanese companies “two years to improve,” she added.
Women in Japan have high levels of education but very few hold senior positions in the business world and politics.
According to business daily Nikkei, women hold only around 10 percent of board positions in Japanese companies.
“This year, we said that in (Japanese) companies that don’t even have one woman on the board, we’ll also start to vote against and we’ll make that clear before the voting season” in June, Ihenacho said.
Based on nominations made last year, more than 300 Japanese companies could be affected. In March, the fund already voted against the nomination of the chairman of the board of electronics group Canon.
Japan is the second-biggest single recipient of the fund’s investments after the United States.
The fund held stakes in 1,533 Japanese companies worth a total of some $57 billion, representing 4.9 percent of all its stockholdings at the end of 2022.
The Asian country, which will host a Group of Seven meeting on gender equality on June 24-25, has vowed to raise the number of women in board positions to 30 percent by 2030.
That is the same minimum level stipulated in a diversity document published by the fund in 2021.
The fund voted against 171 nominations in the United States and Europe last year due to its gender equality policy.
One unusual case was that of lingerie group Victoria Secret, because of an absence of men on the board.