The world’s biggest asset manager earlier this year sent letters to companies in the Russell 1000 index with fewer than two women on their boards, asking them to explain their lack of progress. Some of the responses were surprising, said Michelle Edkins, the firm’s global head of stewardship.
“On board diversity, frankly some of the answers we got were from the 1880s,” Edkins said Friday in an interview at the SRI Conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Among the most frustrating responses: “There aren’t any qualified women,” “We don’t need a woman director” and “We’re not a consumer-facing company.”
But BlackRock, whose research shows that more diverse boards get better results, sees a wide pipeline of female directors available. Edkins said the New York-based fund giant, which has five women on its 18-member board, wants companies to look for directors in more uncommon places.
“Every man was a first-time director once,” she said. “If someone took a bet on an untrained director who happened to be a man, you can take a bet on an untrained director who happens to be a woman.”