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SEC Extends Review Period for Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Proposal

On the heels of our post of our summary deck yesterday on Nasdaq’s December 2020 Board Diversity Proposal, the SEC announced last night that it needs more time to consider Nasdaq’s proposal and associated comment letters.  With the extension, the SEC has until March 11, 2021 to either approve or disapprove the proposal, or institute proceedings to aid its determination.  
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Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Proposal

The SEC continues to consider and take public comment on Nasdaq’s December 2020 Board Diversity Proposal. That proposal, if approved as written, would require Nasdaq-listed issuers to disclose their board diversity composition annually and eventually have two “diverse” directors on their boards, or explain why not. Limited exceptions would also apply.

There’s been much speculation as to whether the SEC will approve these proposed amendments to Nasdaq’s listing requirements, decline to do so, or propose, at some point in time, its own board diversity disclosure requirements.
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State Street’s 2021 Proxy Voting Agenda

State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) released its eagerly awaited 2021 proxy voting agenda earlier this week and, unsurprisingly, climate change risk and the lack of racial and ethnic diversity are among the investor’s top priorities. In the annual letter from the President and CEO Cyrus Taraporevala (CEO’s Letter), companies are urged to increase their transparency around racial and ethnic diversity.
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Glass Lewis Makes Key Changes to Proxy Voting and ESG Proposal Guidelines – Full Summary

On November 24, 2020, Glass Lewis (GL) released its 2021 Proxy Voting Policy Guidelines for the United States and its 2021 “Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) Initiatives,” which outlines the firm’s approach to ESG shareholder proposals.  The policies are effective for shareholder meetings held after January 1, 2021.  Feedback on GL’s policies may be submitted using the link at the top of GL’s voting policy guidelines page.
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Glass Lewis Releases 2021 Proxy Voting Guidelines

Glass Lewis (GL) announced yesterday that its 2021 Proxy Voting Policy Guidelines for the United States are now available. In addition, the proxy advisor announced the release of its 2021 “Environmental, Social and Governance (‘ESG’) Initiatives,” which includes the firm’s approach to shareholder proposals.

We are preparing a more fulsome Briefing: Governance blogpost summary.  In the meantime, the following are a few key changes:

  • BOARD GENDER DIVERSITY.   

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ISS Releases 2021 Benchmark Policies Updates

On November 12, 2020, ISS announced the release of its 2021 benchmark policy updates that will apply to shareholder meetings occurring on or after February 1, 2021. The updated policies substantially adopt the policies as ISS proposed in October 2020 relating to (1) racial and ethnic diversity, (2) board oversight of environmental and social risks, including climate risks and (3) exclusive forum provisions, which we previously discussed here.
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World Economic Forum’s Climate Governance Initiative – Climate Governance on Corporate Boards

As market players begin to pay greater attention to the impacts of climate change on businesses, many international organizations are publishing an array of frameworks, principles and guidelines to help companies and boards who wish to incorporate climate risk into their decision-making.

Among the most prominent, the World Economic Forum has established a Climate Governance Initiative and published a related set of eight guiding principles (Climate Governance Principles) to help foster effective climate governance on corporate boards.
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ISS Proposes 2021 Benchmark Voting Policy Changes

On October 14, 2020, ISS released its proposed voting policy changes for 2021. The changes for the United States focus mainly in these three areas: (1) racial and ethnic board diversity, (2) board oversight of environmental, climate and social risks and (3) exclusive forum provisions.

ISS requests feedback on the proposed changes. Market participants can submit comments via email to policy@issgovernance.com
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World Economic Forum Pledges to Stand By Stakeholders in the COVID-19 Era

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has posed unprecedented health risks and has led to global economic disruptions. The World Economic Forum (WEF), an international organization that fosters public-private cooperation on global, regional and industry agendas, released this month the “Stakeholder Principles in the COVID Era” (Stakeholder Principles) as part of its COVID Action Platform and called businesses to action stating that, during this time of crisis, “[t]he business community’s contribution: [is] to be leaders of responsiveness and stewards of resilience.”
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ISS Releases Policy Application Guidance For COVID-19’s Impact

On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Institutional Shareholder Services Inc. (ISS) issued guidance on voting policies of various corporate governance-related issues that are likely to be implicated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during the 2020 proxy season. The guidance does not introduce any new formal policies. Rather, the guidance provides ISS’s perspective on selected market developments and application of several of its existing policies relevant to the U.S.
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BlackRock Releases Its 2020 Public Company Engagement Priorities

While managing COVID-19 related risks and impacts may be the current priority for many public companies, BlackRock provided a reminder yesterday that environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues will form a core part of its engagement strategy this proxy season.  Publishing its investment stewardship team’s public company engagement priorities for 2020 (Priorities), BlackRock stressed, among other things, that it intends to hold board directors accountable for demonstrating “material progress” on ESG-related disclosures and practices.
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A Snapshot of Board-Shareholder Engagement Trends

Directors of SEC-registered public companies are increasingly taking a more active role in the shareholder engagement process given the evolving corporate governance landscape, including the increasing number of requests for their participation by some of the largest institutional investors. The Conference Board and Rutgers University’s Center for Corporate Law and Governance have recently published a report showing the emerging practices surrounding when and how corporate directors engage with shareholders based on a survey administered in 2018.
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A Profile of Some of the Largest U.S. Tech Boards

The 2019 U.S. Technology Spencer Stuart Board Index (Tech Index) reflects the board practices and trends of 200 public tech companies with the highest revenues based on proxy statements released between July 1, 2018 and July 1, 2019.

I. Selected Spencer Stuart Perspectives

  • Like the S&P 500 companies, the largest tech companies are enhancing board diversity on multiple fronts including gender, skills and experiences as they add new independent directors.

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What Risk Trends in 2020 Should Be on Directors and Officers’ Radar Screens?

Last week, a global insurance company identified what it believes are the risk trends in 2020 that “have significant implications” to directors and officers (D&Os). The firm’s perspective provides a window into the types of trends insurers and underwriters are watching.

1. “Bad news” events resulting in more litigation

The insurer notes that there has been a rise in nonfinancial-based claims against D&Os stemming from what the firm calls “bad news” events, such as cybersecurity attacks, toxic culture (i.e.,
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Spencer Stuart Shows How Boards Are Transforming

The 2019 U.S. Spencer Stuart Board Index (Index) reflects the board practices and trends of S&P 500 companies. According to the Index, boards are responding to investors’ increasing calls for greater diversity of “gender, age, race/ethnicity and professional backgrounds.” Spencer Stuart found that “boards are accelerating the addition of women and minority directors,” which in turn is driving notable changes in board composition.
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Russell 3000 Board Seats Occupied by Women Pass the 20% Mark

Women now occupy more than 20% of Russell 3000 board seats, according to a recently released Equilar report. Equilar states that this is the first time Russell 3000 boards have achieved this milestone. In addition, Equilar found that women constituted over 40% of new directors during the first half of 2019, compared to 17.8% of new directors in 2014.
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State Street Updates Voting Guidelines and Engagement Protocol

State Street Global Advisors, or SSGA, updated and released earlier this week its Global Proxy Voting and Engagement Principles and Proxy Voting and Engagement Guidelines – North America (US & Canada). SSGA has created a new set of global policies dedicated to what companies can expect when engaging with SSGA on environmental and social matters and how SSGA intends to approach voting on sustainability-related proposals.
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Benchmarking Against the Spencer Stuart S&P 500 Board Practices Report

Spencer Stuart has released its annual report on S&P 500 board practices, a useful guide for benchmarking.  The overall trends demonstrate few changes from the prior year, leading the report to conclude that there is a “chronic low rate of director turnover,” bringing about “gradual shifts in the complexion of U.S. boards,” and a “continued incremental evolution.” 
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MSCI to Retain Existing Indexes Unchanged for Voting Structures but Also Launch New Index Series

Unlike S&P and FTSE, after an 18-month consultation period, MSCI has announced that equity securities with unequal voting structures will continue to be included in the MSCI Global Investable Market Indexes at their free float market capitalization weight.

MSCI will instead launch a new index series to reflect the desire of some investors to take into account unequal voting structures in the indexes that they use.
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Part I of the Key Components in the Commonsense Principles 2.0 – Issuer Responsibilities

The Business Roundtable (BRT) and the Council of Institutional Investors (CII) have found common ground in supporting the revised Commonsense Principles 2.0, updated from 2016 and led once again by Warren Buffett and Jamie Dimon, along with several new CEO signatories, including some of the largest asset managers.

The open letter accompanying the principles acknowledges similar works by other groups, including the investor-led Investor Stewardship Group, the BRT’s Principles of Corporate Governance and The New Paradigm from the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum. 
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California Enacts Law Requiring Public Company Boards to Include Women

As our client memo explains, yesterday the governor of California signed a bill that requires public companies with executive offices in the state to include a specific number of women on their boards of directors.

Governor Brown’s statement acknowledges that “serious legal concerns” have been raised about the bill, and that “flaws” in the bill may “prove fatal to its ultimate implementation.” 
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Boards and #MeToo

#MeToo may no longer dominate daily headlines but its indelible impression remains. Corporate boards’ mandate to act in their shareholders’ best interest includes not only overseeing strong financial performance, but also recognizing the ways that corporate culture impacts shareholder value. Reputational harm can cost a company in multiple ways, literally, and produce lasting damage.

Claims regarding sexual misconduct should be treated with proper diligence, and while it may warrant more sensitivity due to the nature of the grievance, boards should reinforce that employee misconduct is not tolerated.
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Companies Commit to Including Diverse Candidates in Board Searches

Six shareholder proposals are on ballots this season asking for increased board diversity, or disclosure about board diversity.

Amazon’s proposal asks the board to adopt a policy requiring that the initial list of potential candidates “should include (but need not be limited to) qualified women and minority candidates,” and that search firms or other consultants make those types of candidates part of the first pool of qualified individuals that they create. 
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Company Prevails in Court Case Disputing Advance Notice Bylaws

HomeStreet received a notice, numbering 133 pages, the day before the advance notice deadline in its bylaws alerting the company that Blue Lion intends to nominate two directors and submit two proposals, seeking annual elections and a binding resolution for an independent chairman. Both the company and the shareholder acknowledged years of engagement that culminated in a decision by the board not to nominate a representative from Blue Lion as a director.
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