Mining companies, long laggards in appointing women to their boards, are starting to catch up under pressure from corporate governance groups and activist shareholders.
The latest is Glencore Plc, the Swiss commodity trader, which on June 26 appointed mining executive Patrice Merrin. Prior to her arrival, Glencore was the last company left on the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index with an all-male board. At the start of last year, five of the seven corporations on the U.K.’s FTSE-100 Index without women board members were mining companies. Now all five have at least one woman director.
“If a board has open spots and open-minded men, finding outstanding women is the easy part,” said Beth Stewart, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. investment banker and founder of executive search company Trewstar Corporate Board Services, which focuses on placing women directors.
Merrin’s appointment to the board of Glencore and her public endorsement of a goal of appointing women to a third of all board seats is a milestone for the $80 billion company run by billionaire Ivan Glasenberg and may open opportunities for more women directors.
Glasenberg’s company had been a lightening rod for criticism from activists, shareholders and U.K. business secretary Vince Cable for its all-male board. The appointment of the 65-year-old Canadian last month enabled Glencore to at last shed its status as the only company on the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index lacking a female director.
Studies increasingly show that women on boards isn’t just good for a company’s image, it’s also good for business. Mixed boards contribute to stronger financial performance, according to a 2012 report by Credit Suisse Group AG. In the previous six years, companies with a market value of more than $10 billion, with at least one woman on the board, outperformed those with all-male boards in terms of share-price performance, the report said. Mixed boards also had a higher return on equity, the report showed.
Finding qualified women board members for mining companies should be no different than any other industry, said Stewart. Since 2013 Trewstar has placed 15 women on corporate boards and recently placed a female director on the board of Mosaic Co., the largest U.S. producer of phosphate fertilizer.
When Mosaic chairman Bob Lumpkins first approached Stewart about finding a woman board member, he was skeptical she could find one suitable for what he called a “dirty-fingernails business,” she said. “Within a month we had ten candidates for him. He interviewed three, all of whom would have done well.”
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