While many of us have been at this for a while now, 2018 is the year we stand to make significant progress in our efforts to bring more women into the financial fold. The #MeToo movement has brought attention to women’s equality everywhere from the red carpet in Hollywood to the executive suite and the board room on Wall Street. The more recent Oscar’s hashtag #HereWeAre is also serving to raise awareness of the importance of women’s voices being included and heard.
With national demonstrations of support including the Women’s March, and myriad celebrations of Women’s History Month as well as a growing body of research highlighting the business case for diverse leadership, those of us looking to change the face of finance have some strong winds in our sails.
From wealth advisors and fund managers, to start up entrepreneurs, to company leadership at the board and executive levels, intuitively we have long known the need for greater diversity within the financial industry. The research is now stacking up pointing to the many and varied benefits for companies, and their investors, that embrace inclusivity. With findings that diverse teams are more innovative (leading to increased revenue generation) and that companies with women in leadership perform better during times of financial uncertainty, we are well on our way to making a strong financial case for inclusion. Additionally, many large firms are recognizing the gender pay gap and that it is in their best interest to close the gap. The news of these efforts strengthens the movement for equality.
This past year has seen record numbers of women (and men alike) gathering to march in the streets to protest the White House, gun violence and use of fossil fuels as well as to speak out for fair treatment of women around the globe. May this also be the year we use our finances as a lever for social change in support of feminist values.
Now is the time to invest with a gender lens. From our consumer activity to our investment portfolio, it is time to align our assets with our goals for gender equity. Each one of our dollars has an impact in the world, from our banking decisions, to our bond and public equity holdings. Let us continue to put our feminism into our finances to ensure that our money is having the impact we are hoping to see in the world.
What does it mean to invest with feminist values?
Here are a few ways to ensure we are leveraging and aligning our portfolios with a gender lens:
• Do all of your companies include women in leadership? There is need for greater diversity at the board and executive leadership in all sizes of companies. Up until recently the onus has been on women to prove that inclusion is a good business proposition. Nowadays, instead of seeing women as a risk factor, the tide is turning toward viewing inclusion as a competitive advantage. Moving forward in this age of inclusion, I believe the burden will move toward men to justify an all-male leadership team. In the meantime, we can send a strong message by voting with our dollars. At Nia, we select only those companies that include women in leadership. We also use our platform and our investor voice to share the accumulating research on women in corporate leadership, encouraging some of our companies to increase their gender diversity numbers.
• Are your investments providing women access to capital? Financial inclusion is a significant part of how we will achieve gender equity. Currently, women receive only 4 percent of venture capital funding. As investors, we all need to check our biases to ensure we are directing capital to women, and not missing opportunities by inadvertently excluding this half of our population of startup businesses. Is your bank providing loans to women entrepreneurs? Are the lending companies in your portfolio on board to lend to women and women owned businesses? Have you checked out Investibule? This new investment platform highlights crowd funding investment opportunities for women entrepreneurs.
• Are the companies in your portfolio producing products and services beneficial to women and girls? It is said that companies with women in charge hire more women. This is a good thing. While leadership opportunities are essential for both a company’s financial bottom line as well as broader inclusion goals, as investors and advisors, it is also important to select companies that have women in mind. To transition to the next, just, sustainable and inclusive economy, those companies that are actively innovating on behalf of women and girls need our investment. From avoiding harmful companies to investing in solutions-focused companies such as those addressing renewable energy, affordable housing and health care solutions, we can use our investment portfolio to invest in a world that works for everyone.
• When evaluating companies in which to invest, company employment policies matter. Are you investing in companies with generous family leave, making it easier for women to excel at their career while also raising a family? Do the companies in your portfolio have diversity goals, as well as policies and practices in place to help them achieve their missions?
• When selecting wealth management services and investment funds, are you choosing female investment advisors and portfolio managers? To change the face of finance moving forward, we will want to bring a gender lens to all levels of our investment decisions. The good news: female managers have been shown to outperform their male counterparts.
• Are you using your investor voice for shareholder engagement? At Nia we view proxy voting as both a shareholder right and a responsibility. From women in board leadership, to CEO pay, to workplace equity we can all use our investor voice by voting proxy statements in alignment with fair and equitable corporate policies and procedures. If your portfolio managers or financial advisors do not already offer this service, As You Sow can help out.
By bringing a gender lens to the investment process, women and men alike can use their assets to bring about more balance and work toward equality while also reaping the potential benefits of financial returns associated with inclusion.
With the cultural and political winds blowing in our favor, let us continue to put our feminism into our finances by incorporating a gender lens at all levels of the investment process.
Article by Kristin Hull, founder and CEO of Nia Impact Capital (www.niaimpactcapital.com), a women-led Registered Investment Advisor leading the charge to change the face of finance by hiring and training women and people of color in sustainable and transformative investing. Kristin founded Nia Global Solutions, a gender-lens portfolio of solutions-focused companies, in her efforts to bring impact investing into the public markets.
An impact Investor since 2007, Kristin oversaw the investment process for one of the first family foundations as they moved their endowment assets into 100% alignment with their philanthropic mission. In 2010 Kristin went on to found Nia Community, a 100% mission-aligned impact investment fund focused on social change and environmental sustainability in her home town of Oakland, California.
Kristin is also a co-founder of Impact Hub Oakland and of the North Oakland Community Charter School, and served on the founding board of George Mark Children’s House. Prior to devoting her career to transforming our financial system, Kristin was a full-time educator, teaching bilingual classes in Oakland and San Francisco. She earned her PhD in Education at University of California, Berkeley, her Masters in Research in Bilingual Education from Stanford University and her BA and teaching credentials from Tufts University.