Australian institutions lead the way in push for greater DEI

As pressure from Australian institutional investors builds on companies to improve their diversity, equity, and inclusion, there are signs that progress is also being made across Asia.
Australian institutions lead the way in push for greater DEI

The larger Australian institutional investors are leading the way in implementing and promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy in Asia Pacific.

New legislation on gender pay gap disclosure and recent regulatory action in Japan and Hong Kong are a sign that progress may accelerate in the wider Asia region. For now, the business case and stakeholder expectations are still the main drivers of DEI implementation.

In that sense, Australian investors are ahead of the game. The concept of bringing diversity of gender and thought to board decision-making is well established.

The Future Fund is a good example of the concept in practice. Of the fund’s 285 employees, 53% identify as female, and the majority of the board, five of seven, are female.

The investment leadership team is close to parity on gender representation. Three of the six direct reports to Future Fund's Chief Investment Officer Ben Samild are women, including deputy CIO Alicia Gregory, the head of ESG Kirsten Simpson, and head of portfolio risk Carol Lee. Three of the eight sector heads are women.

Ben Samild, Future Fund

Samild told AsianInvestor that the fund’s approach to DEI seeks to maximise cognitive diversity, or the science of creating an optimally efficient team from a variety of people with different thought patterns, ideas, problem-solving methods, and mental perspectives.

“Our collaborative culture is continually improved by recognising the value and importance of cognitive diversity,” said Samild.

In the past year, Samild said the fund has sought to strengthen this focus on DEI, enhancing talent acquisition and providing leadership training in unconscious bias.

“We are making good progress, but there is always more to do.”

Superannuation industry leaders in Australia confirmed to AsianInvestor that asset owners know DEI initiatives are important for long-term value in portfolio companies, and many are using active ownership to encourage greater implementation.

Examples of this in the area of gender diversity include the 40:40 Vision programme, set up by HESTA in 2020. This aims for 40% identifying as female, 40% identifying as male and 20% identifying as any gender within the executive teams of ASX300-listed companies by 2030. Last year, the number of companies signing up to the initiative doubled to 35.

“This involves deep active engagement, but can also escalate to voting on shareholder resolutions and raising shareholder resolutions,” Mary Delahunty, CEO of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, told AsianInvestor.


Only 20 ASX200 companies are chaired by women, and fewer still have a female CEO. 

Louise Davidson, ACSI

“We used to hear that there weren’t enough women with ‘appropriate’ qualifications, but that myth has been dispelled,” Louise Davidson, CEO of the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors (ACSI), told AsianInvestor.

“So far this year, nearly 43% of board appointments have been women.”

As a representative body of long-term investors, ACSI is pushing companies to advance gender diversity at the executive level and to disclose the actions that they are taking to achieve this.

“With data indicating men hold 82% of CEO-pipeline roles, it’s very clear that much more change is required for the power balance to shift alongside the gender balance,” said Davidson. 


Increased regulatory pressure across Asia is accelerating the relatively slow pace of boardroom change in the region compared to Europe and the US.

Japan revised and added a clause of promoting diversity within its corporate governance code in 2021, requiring companies to establish and disclose policies and goals on diversity. Japan has also recently introduced gender pay gap disclosures for companies.

The Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) and Singapore Stock Exchange have also updated board diversity disclosure requirements for listed companies. Most recently, the HKEX has given listed companies until the end of this year to ensure that each board includes at least one woman. There are 500 companies that don’t currently meet that requirement, among them several mainland SOEs, including the Bank of China and China Merchants Bank.

"The pool of candidates available for selection is heavily skewed toward men, as there are few female executives within SOEs to begin with,” said Jane Moir, head of research at the Asian Corporate Governance Association.

¬ Haymarket Media Limited. All rights reserved.