Board Diversity and Self-Regulation in Dutch Pension Funds

S.G. van der Lecq, L.A.P. Swinkels, Lin Shi

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Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to examine the change in pension fund board diversity after selfregulation was introduced, and investigate which pension fund characteristics influence compliance with selfregulation.
In addition, the authors analyze whether compliance might be achieved by tokenism.
Design/methodology/approach – The authors hand-collect pension fund and pension fund board data of the largest (by assets) 200 pension funds in the Netherlands. The authors compare descriptive statistics on board diversity, perform statistical tests on these, and perform non-linear regression techniques to investigate which pension fund characteristics influence compliance.
Findings – The findings are fourfold. First, over the past three years, pension fund boards have only marginally improved on gender and age diversity. In April 2014, still more than 35 percent of the funds had no women on the board, and an overwhelming 60 percent had no members below 40 years of age. This
indicates that self-regulation in the pension fund industry so far has not been effective for the industry as a whole. Second, the authors find that pension funds that have larger boards are more likely to have at least one woman on the board or at least one member below 40 years of age. Third, boards of pension funds with more assets are less likely to have young board members. Fourth, boards with at least one female have a higher probability of also having at least one member below 40 years, which is suggestive of tokenism.
Research limitations/implications – Based on Hirschman’s (1970) theory of voice and exit, the authors expect that pension fund boards would be more diverse than corporate boards. However, the authors find that this is not the case. Second, given the importance of generational value transfers in pension fund policy decisions, the authors expect that age is a more important diversity characteristic than gender for pension fund boards in the Netherlands. Again, the data does not support this prediction.
Practical implications – Consistent with the literature on diversity in corporate boards, the authors find that diverse boards are on average larger. This suggests that, all other things equal, small boards might want to reconsider whether increasing their size would lead to more diversity and hence to more voice for
participants that cannot exit the pension scheme. If larger funds hesitate to include young members because of their lack of relevant skills, then the authors would recommend setting up a platform to educate young candidates and prepare them for board membership. Forced independent auditor verification, as in the UK, might be a fruitful action the regulator could enforce on pension funds going forward. However, if that also does not lead to a significant improvement, compulsory diversity quota might be the only option left for
policy makers.
Originality/value – This paper contributes to the literature in at least three ways. First, the authors analyze whether self-regulation on diversity in pension fund boards has been effective. Second, the authors determine which pension fund characteristics are associated with more board diversity. Third, the authors shed light on tokenism in pension fund board composition: Diversity might be obtained through installing diversity tokens, which are individuals who have multiple diversity characteristics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-127
Number of pages17
JournalEquality, Diversity and Inclusion: An International Journal
Issue number2
Early online date13 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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