Great art invites comment, inspires new perspective and even incites controversy. When Fearless Girl appeared in March 2016, proudly confronting the famous Charging Bull of Wall Street, she did all of the above.
What many casual observers did not realize, was that Fearless Girl was commissioned by State Street Global Advisors. The bronze statue was one element of a larger campaign to encourage board diversity for US public companies; promote gender balance in the corporate sector; and, mark the one-year anniversary of its SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF – known by its ticker symbol, “SHE”, on the NASDAQ. A plaque next to Fearless Girl was inscribed: “Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.”
SHE does. And SHE is not the only one.
- In 1994, the Neuberger Berman Socially Responsive fund (“NBSRX”) was launched. Nearly all the companies in which it invests include women on their boards and have well-established diversity programs. The fund has returned 14.42% a year over the past 10 years.
- Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Index (“PXWEX”) is a gender diversity focused index fund, similar to SHE, with a five-year average return of 11.5%.
- On the high heels of SHE, two more cleverly tuckered new funds were launched this fall: Evolve North American Gender Diversity Index ETF (“HERS”) and Lyxor Gender Equality ETF (“ELLE”).
Perhaps more important than the investment products, is the important work these firms are doing to elicit social and corporate change. Pax Ellevate has pushed the Securities and Exchange Commission to make the disclosure of gender pay differences a required filing, while using shareholder activism to motivate the companies themselves. According to Barrons’ Apple, Amazon and eBay have all participated as a result.
Naturally there is enlightened self-interest on the part of the investment funds. Social change is laudable, but the reality is: the more great gender diverse companies that exist, the more choices these investment funds will have for their portfolios. And better performing choices at that.
“From the investment side, our research tells us that more gender balanced companies perform better,” Clarisse Djabbari, deputy head of Lyxor ETF said in an interview with ETFstream.com. “Over six years, the Global Gender Equality strategy (underlying Lyxor’s ETF) outperformed the MSCI World Index by 10.7%.”
According to a study by Veris Wealth Partners, companies with three or more corporate directors who are women (in at least four out of five years) outperformed those with no women on the board by 84% on return on sales (ROS), 60% on return on invested capital (ROIC) and 46% on return on equity (ROE).
The law of free markets suggests that whither goest the profits, there goest demand. As gender balanced investment products continue to rake in assets and produce great returns, even more investment capital will flow toward them. More companies will want to qualify, getting in shape to ensure they have the diversity and gender balance that investors want.
After awhile, if all goes well, gender balanced companies will no longer be a source of niche investing, they will be the norm.
So, are these investments a passing fad or a factor for success? Let’s hope the answer is: both.