Gender Capitalism at Work

March 5, 2015

Two years ago in a TEDx talk around gender and investing I claimed “the data is in, the case has been made.  The smart money is already moving”   

I was seeing Gender Capitalism at work – I just didn’t have a name for it.  This week leaders from dozens of corporations will come together at the UN to share statistics and stories around progress towards women’s economic empowerment.  Our conversation won’t center around charitable programs, but about how we are working to leverage our core capabilities in support of gender equality and business results.

While we each bring a unique approach, we share themes.  We are looking to leverage the power of diverse teams given that research shows they make better decisions.  We seek to understand the female consumer – as she makes 80% of the global purchasing decisions and represents a market force equal to India or China.  We’d like to diversify and strengthen our supply chains by purchasing from women entrepreneurs – who according to the International Finance Corporation represent 38% of all registered businesses.

I could recite more statistics -– but you’ll likely see those repeated eloquently throughout the coming week.  Instead I want to share our story.  The 2014 U.S. Trust Insights on Wealth and Worth® survey  shows that 50% - one in two - of our high net worth clients say that the social or environmental impact of their portfolios is important to them.  Our clients, and disproportionately our women clients, are looking for opportunities to invest in companies that reflect their values.  But it is not simply a values conversation.  They see the mega trends – resource scarcity, food insecurity, climate change – and believe that companies that address these challenges will have long term advantages.  Put another way, social issues are economic issues.  Gender equality is good for business.

We’ve created an investment approach which utilizes a gender lens and resonates with institutions and individuals who want to support the economic security of women and girls.  These investors want to leverage all of their resources – their voice, their relationships, their grants and their investments towards this mission.  The Women and Girls Equality Strategy (WGES) uses a gender lens to identify smart investments in companies they are proud to own.  This requires looking holistically at how companies engage women—as consumers, employees, and agents of global change.  We use quantitative criteria to compare companies with sector peers on factors such as pay equity, recruiting, retaining and promoting women, supply chain and subcontractor relationships, gender impact of goods and services, and portrayal of women in media.  Interestingly, companies that score well in the analysis are also less likely to have environmental penalties, labor violations, and product safety recalls. In short, they are well run companies.

The WGES strategy focuses on US public companies, and is only one way that Bank of America is engaging in investments that leverage a gender lensconnecting women to human, social and financial capital.  Next week in Johannesburg, the Global Ambassadors Program, a partnership with Vital Voices, will connect African women leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS to senior women executives for mentoring that will advance their mission – an economic imperative. Recognizing the need for access to capital, we are an anchor investor in the Calvert Foundation WINWIN 2.0, focused on inclusive energy businesses in sub-Saharan Africa and with the Tory Burch Foundation we’ve launched Elizabeth Street Capital to move investment capital to domestic women entrepreneurs here in the U.S. We view this as only the beginning, as increases in transparency and data reporting along with growth in client awareness of the possibilities will drive additional innovation in this field.  We have only begun to unpack the value which can be created within the context of Gender Capitalism. 

This content represents thoughts of the author and does not necessarily represent the position of Bank of America or U.S. Trust.

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