Institutional investors and proxy advisory firms continue to develop and refine their policies regarding board diversity. While gender diversity on public company boards has been in focus for some time now, institutional investors and proxy advisory firms are also increasingly focusing on racial and ethnic diversity as part of their evolving approach to board diversity.

This post is a summary of published board diversity policies of certain institutional investors and proxy advisory firms into a singular resource for ease of reference. Below the initial breakdown, certain policies concerning board diversity shareholder proposals are described. 


Continue Reading A Summary of Certain Proxy Advisory Firm and Institutional Investor Board Diversity Policies

Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Kevin Douglas, Eric Knox and Sehrish Siddiqui were co-presenters alongside Stephanie Bignon, Assistant General Counsel, Delta Air Lines and Priya Galante, Vice President, Assistant General Counsel & Assistant Secretary, AutoZone at the Society for Corporate Governance’s Southeastern Chapter webinar earlier this month.

This program, titled, “Preparing for the Upcoming Proxy

Over the last few weeks, we have seen a flurry of activity concerning diversity in the boardroom. The Nasdaq Stock Market LLC (Nasdaq) proposed to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) a new diversity rule and proxy advisory firms Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) and Glass Lewis each announced expanded diversity proxy voting guidelines. These developments continue a trend of increased investor focus on board diversity.

Nasdaq Proposes Diversity Requirement

Nasdaq filed a proposal this week that, if approved by the SEC (subject to certain exceptions), would ultimately require boards of Nasdaq-listed companies to have at least two diverse directors, consisting of at least one director whose self-identified gender is female and at least one director who self-identifies as either an underrepresented minority or LGBTQ+ (in each case as defined in the proposal).

If approved by the SEC, all Nasdaq-listed companies would be required to disclose certain statistical information regarding the diversity of their boards within one year of approval by the SEC (the Effective Date) and have at least one diverse director within two years of the Effective Date. Additionally, companies listed on the Nasdaq Global Select or Global Market tiers would be required to have at least two diverse directors within four years of the Effective Date and companies listed on the Nasdaq Capital Market would have to meet the same requirement within five years of the Effective Date. Companies failing to meet applicable requirements would have to provide to Nasdaq an explanation of their non-compliance. According to Nasdaq’s study, currently, more than 75% of its listed companies would not meet the requirements set forth under the proposed rule.


Continue Reading Focus on Boardroom Diversity Intensifies

Register NowJoin our corporate and securities attorneys for our 2nd Annual Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum. This virtual program will feature timely and practical guidance on the latest developments in corporate and securities matters impacting public company in-house counsel.

Panels will include speakers from AutoZone, BNY Mellon, Brown-Forman, Farmer Brothers

Bass, Berry & Sims invites you to join us for our 2nd Annual Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum.

Although we are unable to meet in-person due to ongoing concerns resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, we are excited to host this year’s forum virtually.

This complimentary program will feature timely and practical guidance on the latest developments in corporate and securities matters impacting public company in-house counsel.

Panel and breakout discussion topics will include:

  • Financial reporting and disclosure considerations.
  • Insights from public company general counsel.
  • 2021 proxy season developments.
  • Restaurant & hospitality industry trends.
  • ESG considerations.

We are also pleased to welcome Myron T. Steele, former Chief Justice of the Delaware Supreme Court, as a featured speaker. Bass, Berry & Sims partner Leigh Walton will lead a fireside chat with former Chief Justice Steele about recent areas of focus for the Delaware judiciary, including COVID-19 related emergency orders, directors’ considerations for multiple stakeholder interests when discharging fiduciary duties, and corporate governance around ESG and diversity. Their discussion will also review the impact of federal elections on corporate law.

The program will take place on December 8, 2020, from 1:00-4:00PM CT and is intended for in-house counsel, public company finance and SEC reporting personnel, compliance officers, and other interested professionals.


Continue Reading [REGISTER NOW] Corporate & Securities Counsel Public Company Forum | December 8, 2020

On September 23, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved amendments, originally proposed in November 2019 and discussed in a prior blog post, to Rule 14a-8, which governs the process for a shareholder to have its proposal included in a company’s proxy statement.

The amendments to Rule 14a-8 are intended to “modernize and enhance the efficiency and integrity of the shareholder-proposal process for the benefit of all shareholders, including to help ensure that a shareholder-proponent has demonstrated a meaningful ‘economic stake or investment interest’ in a company before the shareholder may draw on company resources to require the inclusion of a proposal in the company’s proxy statement, and before the shareholder may use the company’s proxy statement to command the attention of the other shareholders to consider and vote on the proposal.”

Set forth below is a chart comparing the key amendments. Practical considerations regarding the amendments follow.


Continue Reading SEC Adopts Amendments to Shareholder Proposal Requirements, Modestly Raising Thresholds

As public companies continue to navigate the ongoing economic upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunistic activist investors may find the resulting economic conditions conducive to accumulating significant ownership positions, agitating for changes in corporate strategy and management, and pursuing public activist campaigns.  Although the number of overt activist campaigns were down during the primary 2020 proxy season, as the annual meeting season for most public companies took place during the initial months of the pandemic lockdown, the third and fourth quarters generally tend to see an increase in activist activity as hedge funds make initial preparations for the following year’s proxy season. Given these circumstances, this is an opportune time for public companies to make preparations by reviewing and evaluating their defensive profiles.

The following summarizes most of the common defensive mechanisms that companies utilize when faced with activist campaigns, hostile takeover attempts, and other attempts to influence corporate policy in ways that may not be in the best interest of all shareholders. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to defensive measures, an evaluation of the existing defensive profile of the company is a critical first step.  In our experience advising on behalf of companies and their boards of directors, an analysis of the corporation’s defenses under its organizational documents and applicable law is usually undertaken and summarized for the board in connection with a defensive profile review.

Defensive Measures Related to Stockholder Meetings

Are stockholders able to take action by written consent?

Section 228(a) of the Delaware General Corporation Law (DGCL) generally provides that, unless restricted by the certificate of incorporation, the requisite stockholders needed to approve an action may do so by written consent instead of a meeting—including actions to elect new directors or to approve a takeover proposal.  Limiting stockholder action by written consent is particularly important for companies with large blocks of its common stock concentrated among one or several large stockholders, including holdings by large institutional holders, which could otherwise take swift action by written consent and without holding a stockholder meeting.


Continue Reading A Practical Guide to Evaluating a Company’s Defensive Profile

In case you missed it, we discussed virtual annual meetings at our recent Public Company Town Hall Webinar: Securities Law Guidance for First Quarter Reporting Season. Access the recording here.

Among the numerous considerations related to upcoming annual stockholder meetings being hosted solely using remote (virtual) communication as a result of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, one question that several clients and colleagues have raised is whether management must host a “live” question and answer (Q&A) session on the webcast or whether stockholders must submit their questions in advance (i.e., no “real-time” submission of questions at the meeting).

Based on our survey of company practices in the Fortune 100 (as discussed further below), most companies in our survey are allowing shareholders to ask questions during the virtual annual meeting, with 58% permitting stockholders to submit questions only during the virtual annual meeting and another 32% also permitting stockholders to submit questions in advance of the virtual annual meeting.
Continue Reading Q&A at Virtual Stockholder Meetings: A Review of Latest Trends

In a previous blog post, we discussed the availability of virtual shareholder meetings (i.e., “virtual-only” and “hybrid” meetings) as a potential alternative to the traditional in-person meeting during the 2020 proxy season in light of the emerging public health and safety crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The Staff of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Division of Corporation Finance and Division of Investment Management subsequently issued guidance for conducting virtual annual meetings under these unprecedented circumstances.

Post-Proxy Filing

The Staff confirmed that if a company has already mailed and filed its proxy materials, the company can notify shareholders of a change in the date, time or location of the annual meeting without amending its definitive proxy materials or mailing additional soliciting materials if the company issues a press release announcing the change, files the announcement as definitive additional soliciting material on EDGAR, and takes all reasonable steps necessary to inform other interested parties in the proxy solicitation process (e.g., any proxy service providers and applicable national securities exchanges) of the change. These actions should be taken promptly after the decision to hold a virtual meeting is made and, in any case, sufficiently in advance of the annual meeting. Therefore, companies that have already filed and mailed their definitive proxy materials would not need to mail additional soliciting materials (including new proxy cards) solely to switch to a “virtual” or “hybrid” meeting if they follow the steps described above for announcing a change in the meeting date, time, or location.


Continue Reading SEC Staff Provides Guidance for Conducting Virtual Meetings in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

Across the globe, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) is causing governments, companies, associations and colleges and universities to take unprecedented steps to address the spread and transmission of COVID-19. These steps include imposing restrictions on travel and public life; closing physical offices or campuses; canceling conferences, meetings and other scheduled group activities; restricting the size of gatherings; and encouraging or requiring employees and students to telecommute.

With increasing COVID-19 concerns in the United States and proxy season underway, public companies, including those that have already mailed proxy materials, may need to consider alternatives to conducting in-person shareholder meetings in light of the emerging public health crisis posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, companies should assess whether or not a virtual meeting format is a viable alternative to the customary in-person meeting. Virtual meetings are generally divided into the following two categories:

  1. Virtual-only meetings conducted solely using remote communication.
  2. Hybrid meetings conducted in-person with concurrent participation by remote communication.


Continue Reading COVID-19 Pandemic Causes Public Companies to Reevaluate Virtual Meetings