5 Min Read
* Glencore had been criticised for lack of female directors
* Mining sector lags others for female representation
* Patrice Merrin holds number of other industry posts (Adds Merrin's position on female representation, comment from Hermes EOS CEO)
By Silvia Antonioli
LONDON, June 26 (Reuters) - Commodity trader and miner Glencore Plc, the last London-listed blue-chip company with an all-male board, has appointed Patrice Merrin as its first female board director.
The group had come under fire from some shareholders over its apparent failure to follow recommendations in a 2011 British government review that called for more women on company boards.
Canadian mining expert Merrin, appointed a non-executive director with immediate effect, had worked at Canadian miner Sherritt for a decade before becoming chief executive of Canada's largest thermal coal producer Luscar.
She is also a director of precious metals mining company Stillwater and has been proposed as director of MFC Industrial and Cliff Natural Resources.
"This is a historic day for the FTSE and for the reforms I've been pushing for to ensure that there is more diversity in the talent running our biggest companies," said UK Business Secretary Vince Cable.
"This last appointment has been long in the making but I congratulate Glencore Xstrata ... The case for change is clear - businesses with diversity at their top are more successful. British businesses have embraced this move for change and done so in a voluntary way, without recourse for legal targets."
The UK government's Davies Review recommended that all firms in the FTSE 100 index of leading shares should aim for at least a quarter of board roles to be held by women by 2015.
Commodities was this year found to be the listed company sector with the lowest percentage of female board members, at only 13.6 percent against an average 24.7 percent, according to researchers Nordic Investor Services.
Those findings echoed a 2013 report from accountants PwC which said it had found mining lagged all other sectors, including oil and gas, in terms of gender diversity, with only 5 percent of board seats held by women in the top 500 mining companies globally.
The same study noted that profit margins were higher for mining companies with women on the board.
Glencore's appointment came after Chairman Tony Hayward said at the annual general meeting in May the company would name a female director by the end of the year.
Hayward did not openly remark on the fact that the appointment of Merrin puts an end to Glencore's female-free board era, focusing instead on her skills.
"Patrice's in-depth experience of operating across the resources sector will help strengthen the board's ability to work with the opportunities and challenges presented by the global extractive industry," Hayward said.
Merrin could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for London-based fund adviser Pensions Investment Research Consultants (PIRC) said: "We welcome the appointment and we look forward to hearing more from Glencore with regards to their plans to create more diversity at board level."
Merrin herself has championed the cause of having more women in boardrooms in Canada.
In a letter she sent in Oct. 2013 to the Ontario Securities Commission she recommended it introduced a target that company boards should comprise a minimum of 33 percent of women by the end of June 2018 and it impose quotas if targets were not met.
In the letter, she suggested the Commission should have a "just do it" attitude rather the "letting nature take its course" view taken so far, which had produced poor results.
Colin Melvin, Chief Executive Officer at Hermes Equity Ownership Services (EOS), welcomed Glencore's appointment, but said greater boardroom diversity was needed.
"We support the aim of the 30% Club to achieve a self-perpetuating proportion of female directors on corporate boards by the end of 2015," he said in a statement.
Launched in 2010 in the UK, the 30% Club is composed of a group of business leaders taking voluntary steps to reach a target of having 30 percent women representation on FTSE-100 companies' boards by the end of 2015.
The latest annual progress report on Women on Boards earlier this year showed women accounted for 20.7 percent of board positions among FTSE=100 companies from 12.5 percent in 2011.
Chile-focused copper miner Antofagasta was the second-last FTSE-100 company to appoint a woman to its board of directors when it named Vivianne Blanlot as a director in March. (Additional reporting by Euan Rocha, William James, Jemima Kelly, Simon Jessop and Andrew Osborne; Editing by David Holmes and Mark Potter)