Investing in gender equality

2017-03-17 11:38

On Wednesday, 08 March 2017 the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) marked International Women’s Day by participating in the global movement of “Ringing the bell for gender equality”  to raise awareness of the vital role that organisations need to play in advancing gender equality.   

•         Women take home 1/10 of global income, while accounting for 2/3 of global working hours. (Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative)

•         Per a 2016 review of 1,000 listed companies, the average representation of women in the leadership was 23% in senior management, 21% on boards, 4% have a female chairperson, and 3% have a female CEO. (Bloomberg)

•         Only 5% of companies in the Russell 3000 Index have female CEOs. (Catherine Yoshimoto — FTSE Russell Senior Index Product Manager).

There is overwhelming evidence that investing in gender equity — or investing in companies that are committed to gender equality and women’s leadership — is a smart investment strategy:

•         A 2012 Credit Suisse Research Institute report reviewed 2,360 global companies and found that companies with women directors outperformed those without women directors in return on equity (ROE), average growth, and price/book value multiples. Moreover, companies that had at least one woman director had better share price performance than companies that didn’t.

•         Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI) concluded that companies with strong female leadership boasted higher returns on equity (ROE) than those without it. (10.1% ROE for companies with strong female leadership vs. 7.4% ROE for companies without a critical mass of women at the top.)

•         Another Morgan Stanley research report discovered companies with greater gender diversity produced slightly higher returns and lower volatility over the five-year period from March 2011 to March 2016.

•         McKinsey found companies in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns greater than their industry average.

For instance, in the last five years, the 20 S&P 500 companies with the highest percentage of female board members have outperformed the broader index by an average of 3% per year.

The need for a South African Gender Equity ETF

Since the birth of our democracy in 1994 South Africa has seen a strong push for gender equality in policy and decision making in both the public and private sectors.

In 2015 the JSE introduced listing requirements compelling listed companies to have a policy for the promotion of gender diversity at board level and disclose their performance against it. The requirements were effective from January 2017. But more should and can be done to promote gender equality as an economic and investment imperative.

As the focus shifts towards radical economic transformation the push for women's economic empowerment is all the more crucial. To accelerate this transformation in South Africa the establishment of a Gender Equity ETF that focuses on gender-diverse corporate leadership has become a critical need.

As an example, a year ago State Street Global Advisors (SSGA) launched the SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF (SHE) focused on gender-diverse corporate leadership. Jenn Bender, SSGA's Director of Research for the Global Equity Beta Solutions team explains why her company brought this ETF to market,

"We wanted to give investors an opportunity to direct capital to companies that have demonstrated a commitment to gender diversity. At the same time, companies with greater percentages of women at the top have also been shown to demonstrate financial success, both in terms of performance and profitability."

SHE tracks the SSGA Gender Diversity Index and is comprised of large-cap companies that are leaders in their respective industry sectors in advancing women through gender equality on their boards of directors and in senior leadership positions. In the ETF:

Companies are ranked within each sector by the following three gender diversity ratio-based criteria: (i) ratio of female executives and female members of the board of directors to all executives and members of the board of directors; (ii) ratio of female executives to all executives; (iii) ratio of female executives excluding executives who are members of the board of directors to all executives excluding executives who are members of the board of directors.

This methodology has netted 185 current holdings. So far, SHE has garnered a fair share of interest. In its first 12 months, the ETF collected $290 million in assets. The index back-tests have outperformed the S&P 500 by an average of over 3% per year since mid-2002.

To learn more about the SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF (SHE), click here.

A South African Gender Diversity Index ETF is long overdue. The value of such an investment in gender equality is exponential and real. We need this investment instrument as a priority.

The author is a management consultant with over 20 years of experience in the telecommunication and digital industries. You can follow him at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bjcameron .

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