Schroders first asset manager grilled over gender pay at AGM

Schroders has become the first asset manager to come under fire for its gender pay gap in AGM season, as a prominent activist tells others in the industry to prepare to face tough questions.

Man Group's gender targets underwhelm shareholder activist
Catherine Howarth, Chief Executive at ShareAction, on 07 March 2017 in London, United Kingdom.

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The asset manager was one of the last in the industry to file its gender pay report this year, reporting gaps of 27% for mean pay and 29% for median hourly pay. For bonuses the mean was 75% and the median was 60%.

Women only made up 23% of employees with top quartile pay at the FTSE 100 company, but made up 53% of the lower quartile.

Speaking at the London Business School asset management conference on Thursday, Shareaction chief executive Catherine Howarth said they would be attending a lot of asset management AGMs to grill executives on the issue.

At the Schroders AGM on Thursday, chief executive Peter Harrison listed the small number of job applications from women, plus the comparatively smaller number who have sat the CFA qualifications as some reasons behind the lack of diversity.

Shareaction appointed representative, Tom Schuller, questioned Harrison over whether Schroders was making the best use of available talent, skill and competence, stating women now outperform men “quite significantly” on education and training.

“The key issue is not the recruitment of new graduates, but the provision of proper careers over the full professional life course,” Schuller said.

In response to questions over what Schroders was doing to reduce pay and bonus differences, Harrison said they only use headhunters that sign up to gender diversity code, ensure they have 50% women at every assessment centre and encourage flexible working.

Industry-wide issue

Schroders is part of a wider trend of poor gender pay figures in the asset management industry.

The average mean gender pay gap is 30.5%, while the median is 29%, according to figures crunched by Portfolio Adviser in April, based on 37 asset managers.

Jupiter chief executive Martin Slendebroek was defensive about the figures for his firm when questioned about it at the asset manager’s annual press dinner on Wednesday, stating he made no apologies for picking the best performing portfolio managers.

“That’s the nature of our industry. That doesn’t mean it is in every sense beautiful, but you are at the sharp end of capitalism.”

Jupiter had a mean pay gap of 38% and median gap of 25%.

Nomura and Investec Asset Management tied for the highest mean gap, with 48.8%, while Standard Life Investments was second, with a mean gap of 47%.

Conflict of interest

While Shareaction told Portfolio Adviser it was pleased with Schroder’s response, it did state that no other individual or organisation raised questions about gender pay, despite the issue receiving multiple headlines in the lead up to the reporting deadline on 4 April.

Howarth said Shareaction would challenge asset managers whether their own embarrassing gender pay figures would limit them from grilling their own portfolio companies about the issue.

“We wouldn’t want that because it’s a really legitimate issue to be asking companies about,” she said.

Howarth described the gender pay gap numbers as illuminating. She said they would have never come to light without the law coming in requiring disclosure and that similar transparency was required to keep a lid on soaring executive pay.

Shareaction spoke out against sky-high executive pay packages at Persimmon’s AGM on Wednesday and called for the housebuilder to become accredited as a Living Wage employer.

However, the £75m pay package for chief executive Jeff Fairburn slipped through with 52% of the vote and the company rejected calls to pay employees the Living Wage.

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