Disability:IN and AAPD Urge SEC and Nasdaq to Include People with Disabilities in Board Diversity Proposal
Institutional investors also voice support for measuring and reporting disability diversity in the corporate boardroom
Disability:IN, the leading global nonprofit organization for advancing business disability inclusion and equality, and the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), a national cross-disability rights organization, have jointly submitted comment letters to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Nasdaq, requesting that Nasdaq include people with disabilities in its proposed board diversity rules.
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The letters were sent to SEC Acting Chair Allison Lee and Nasdaq President and CEO Adena T. Friedman, who are considering requiring the more than 3,000 companies listed on Nasdaq’s U.S. exchange to provide diversity statistics on its boards of directors. Companies are also expected to include one or more diverse directors on their board within specific timeframes or explain why they did not meet their objectives—or risk being delisted from the exchange.
Nasdaq defines a diverse director as one who self-identifies as female, underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+. People with disabilities are not included in the definition.
“Including disability diversity in the corporate boardroom would mark a major turning point for disability rights and have the single largest impact on the economic independence and quality of life for millions of people with disabilities,” said Ted Kennedy, Jr., Chairman of the AAPD. “If this omission persists, then Nasdaq and the SEC will miss an enormous opportunity to ensure that corporate leadership reflects the diversity of the U.S. and the world.”
“Nearly half of the world’s one hundred largest economies are actually public companies, giving Nasdaq and the SEC a unique role in creating a more just and equitable society,” said Jill Houghton, President and CEO of Disability:IN. “Decisions are made in corporate boardrooms, and people with disabilities deserve to be represented alongside other diverse groups. We are simply asking that Nasdaq include people with disabilities in the proposed rule’s definition of diverse.”
Institutional investors are also advocating for disability inclusion as part of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) activities. Thomas DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, the country’s third-largest pension fund, asked the SEC for a broader definition of diversity that includes disability. The New York fund and its $76 billion Massachusetts counterpart, Mass PRIM, have also taken the further step of adding disability inclusion measures as a new component of their proxy voting guidelines, with other investors expected to follow.
Houghton says companies can register to take the Disability Equality Index, a confidential benchmarking program from Disability:IN and AAPD that tracks progress toward inclusive workplaces for individuals with disabilities. Now in its seventh year, more than 250 Fortune 500 companies participate in the DEI.