When it comes to gender equality, corporate America still has a long way to go, and according to a number of studies, that’s stifling growth. A 2015 study by McKinsey found that true gender equality could boost global GDP by $28 trillion a year. That same year, a Grant Thornton study found that companies with women in executive roles outperformed those without by around 2 percent annually.
Some investment services firms are trying to address the problem by embracing what’s known as “gender lens investing.” The idea is to get investors to put their money into companies that advance gender equality.
Andrew Behar, head of As You Sow, a San Francisco Bay-area shareholders advocacy group, said putting women in positions of power is simply good for business.
“It really creates a better culture that's going to reduce risk. That's going to attract the best and the brightest talent,” he said.
Behar’s organization offers a free online tool that allows investors to review the gender equity scores of mutual funds. For example, whether the companies in the fund are selecting and keeping women on boards and promoting equal pay.
That information isn’t always easy to get.
“The greatest challenge really is the transparency,” said Diana van Maasdijk, head of Equileap, an organization that compiles gender-equality data — everything from participation rates and pay raises for women to parental leave policies — from companies in 23 countries
“This type of information —many times we have a hard time finding it in the annual reports of the companies,” Maasdijk said.
But more investment firms have been doing that research, offering gender-lens mutual funds, exchange traded funds, bonds, and even a CD. Community Capital Management, a Florida-based firm focused on impact investing, has been introducing its clients to bonds that increase women’s access to capital, directly or indirectly, since 2005. COO Alyssa Greenspan says demand is strong and getting stronger.
“Definitely over the last couple of years we've seen increased interest," she said. "Because of some of the outside factors that are, you know, way outside of the investing universe,” like the Me Too and Women’s March movements.
Investors poured more than $2.4 billion into gender-lens assets in 2018 according to a study from Veris Wealth Partners. That’s up from $1.3 billion in 2017.
Companies with better gender equality are more likely to succeed, but there’s no guarantee, according to Joann Weiner, an economist at George Washington University.
“People may very well wish to invest in funds that promote gender equality because they think that is the right thing to do but they shouldn't necessarily expect to get extraordinary returns,” she said.
Weiner said a lot of factors weigh into a company's success, and investors should look at the whole picture.
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