Empowering Women through listed equities
The past 20 years have seen significant progress towards gender equality, together with an increasing awareness that the achievement of gender equality is a prerequisite for sustainable development. There is a growing consensus that educating and employing larger numbers of women can lead to economic growth. Yet despite this progress, women’s professional prospects are still far from equal to those of their male counterparts.
In addition to facing challenges associated with accessing the workforce, women who succeed in joining the workforce are often victims of the “Quality Gap”: they tend to work lower-paid jobs, engage in more part-time work, and receive less remuneration than their male counterparts. Furthermore, their advancement is often impeded by the “Glass Ceiling,” an invisible barrier which prevents them from rising to higher-level positions within corporations.
Several European countries have taken steps to address these issues, including implementing mandatory quotas for the number of women on corporate boards. While these policies have had a positive impact and have helped to increase companies’ awareness of the importance of gender diversity, they are also subject to certain limitations.
We believe that addressing the number of women in top-level executive positions is a more effective way to increase gender diversity and that the main challenge that companies face when seeking to increase the gender diversity of their workforce is creating a clear career path for women that enables them to advance from middle- to top-level management.
Conversely, increasing the number of women in top-level management positions contributes to create a positive “spill-over” effect enabling effective change in the company’s culture and foster broader diversity.
Furthermore, the underrepresentation of women in top-level management positions in the private sector is increasingly seen as a problem, not only from a fairness and equality perspective, but also because it may impede financial performance.
Evidence suggests that greater gender diversity in leadership positions leads to better operational performance, profitability and returns. In short, increased gender diversity, particularly at the C-suite level, has a positive financial impact as well as a positive social impact.
In light of these findings, we have defined a set of objective criteria for measuring companies’ commitment to empowering women. By focusing on the percentages of women in C-suite positions and on Executive Committees and coupled with a qualitative review of companies’ practices to gender balance, we have identified a global investment universe of approximately 258 companies1.