Nasdaq seeking permission to require diversity at listed companies

Nasdaq is seeking US authority to require more diversity in the boardrooms of companies listed on the New York-based exchange.

It is the first major exchange to pursue such a requirement.

The proposal filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on Tuesday, if approved, would require all companies listed on the exchange to publicly disclose consistent, transparent diversity statistics about their board of directors.

It would require most Nasdaq-listed companies to have, or explain why they do not have, at least two diverse directors.

This includes having one board member who self-identifies as female and one who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ.

Foreign companies and smaller reporting companies would have additional flexibility in satisfying this requirement with two female directors.

A sign for Wall Street (MArtin Keene/PA)
A sign for Wall Street (MArtin Keene/PA)

Corporate boards are overwhelmingly white and male.

According to the 2018 Board Diversity Census from the Alliance for Board Diversity and the consulting firm Deloitte, women held just 22% of Fortune 500 seats in 2018, compared to 20% a year earlier and 16% in 2010.

White men held 66% of Fortune 500 board seats in 2018.

Blacks held nearly 9% of seats in 2018, compared with nearly 8% in 2010.

“This proposal and partnership gives companies an opportunity to make progress toward increasing representation of women, underrepresented minorities and the LGBTQ+ community on their boards,” Nelson Griggs, president of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, said in a prepared statement.

“Corporate diversity, at all levels, opens up a clear path to innovation and growth.

“We are inspired by the support from our issuers and the financial community with this effort and look forward to working together with companies of all sizes to create stronger and more inclusive boards.”

Nasdaq said the proposal’s goal is to give stakeholders a better understanding of a company’s current board composition and to bolster investor confidence that all listed companies are considering diversity when the look for new board members.

The proposal would require all Nasdaq-listed companies to publicly disclose board-level diversity statistics through Nasdaq’s proposed disclosure framework within one year of the SEC’s approval of the listing rule.

All companies will be expected to have one diverse director within two years of the SEC’s approval of the listing rule.

Companies listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market and Nasdaq Global Market will be expected to have two diverse directors within four years of listing rule approval.

Companies listed on the Nasdaq Capital Market will be expected to have two diverse directors within five years of the SEC’s approval.

Companies that cannot meet the board composition objectives within the required time frames will not be subject to delisting if they provide a public explanation of their reasons for not meeting the objectives.