Let the bells ring for equality

Business | Published:

Sponsored content by Russell Waite and Julia Warrender of Affinity Private Wealth

Affinity Private Wealth: Russell Waite and Julia Warrender (27196023)

Gender equality: why bother?

Russell Waite and Julia Warrender reply:

As most of you will know, this is a leap year. 29 February is synonymous with the archaic tradition of women being ‘allowed’ to propose to men. What is the history behind this? In 1288, Queen Margaret of Scotland was said to have passed a law declaring that women could propose every 29 February – and that if a man refused, he had to pay a fine of a new gown, gloves or a kiss. Another contender for coming up with the idea is an Irish nun of the sixth century, Brigid of Kildare, who is said to have pleaded with Saint Patrick that women needed a chance to propose to shy suitors.

Irrespective of where this all started, the tradition hardly seems appropriate in the context of UN Sustainable Development Goal 5. Gender equality and the empowerment of women is recognised as essential to boosting economic growth and labour productivity globally. When we consider anti-discrimination legislation, on the basis of gender, was introduced in the US as part of the Civil Rights Act as far back as 1964, surely we should be reviewing a good-news story?

Not quite. According to the latest UN Global Compact Progress Report, 63% of women aged between 25 and 54 are part of the labour force, compared to 94% men in the same age range; women earn approximately 20% less than men doing the same work; politically, women hold only 20% of ministerial and 24% of parliamentarian positions; economically, women have similar access to financial services as men in just 60% of countries and spend 2.6x more time on housework and other unpaid activities. Estimates suggest it will take, at this current rate of ‘progress’, a staggering 202 years to close the economic gender gap and achieve equality in the workplace.

When women are empowered, economies grow and businesses thrive. Again using UN data, achieving 30% female representation on corporate boards could add six percentage points to net margins and companies with the highest level of women on their executive teams are 21% more likely to register above-average profits. Businesses with above-average diversity within their management teams have innovation revenue of 45%, versus 26% for those with below-average leadership diversity. These metrics are not only compelling, but highly noteworthy for shareholders and the creation of sustainable value. The outperformance is also investable. Affinity allocates to the RobecoSAM Global Gender Equality Impact Equities fund in our Sustainable Strategy. The fund invests in a concentrated portfolio of attractively valued companies, exhibiting a high degree of gender equality.

Waiting another two centuries to close the economic gender gap is simply not acceptable. The finance sector has a role to play here too. UN Women, alongside the World Federation of Exchanges and several other groups, are working together again this year, on International Women’s Day, to ring the bell across stock exchanges for gender equality. This global initiative aims to bring attention to the pivotal role the private sector can play.

Let the bells ring.

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