Making gender visible to investors

Boston Common CEO says gender is largely absent from conversations on global investor action

Exclusion and harm on the basis of gender are so pervasive as to be too often invisible, normalised and ignored. Like racial exploitation, gender-based inequity, violence and harassment are woven into commerce, economics, and social systems.

Human trafficking – that is, modern day slavery for supply chains, personal servitude and sexual exploitation – is largely gender-driven. Women are universally underpaid for equivalent work and lack equal access to capital, land, water and opportunities to build wealth. Intersections of class, race and ethnicity exacerbate the harm.

Taxed by society’s expectations, women and girls carry the burden of unpaid care and sustenance for the young, old and infirm, for food and water. This burden often leaves them penalised in the ‘paid’ economy, relegated to inferior or precarious work, their opportunities curtailed, their work devalued. Power imbalances and enabling cultures further objectify them, condoning threats to their freedom and safety.

Why you should care

Why should investors care? Because corporate choices on exploitative supply chains, damaging marketing practices, toxic company cultures and unsafe workplaces are justified on their behalf. These unpriced externalities along with broader concerns about the wellbeing of employees, customers, and community have risen to the top with the pandemic. By some estimates, a decade of progress on women’s economic participation has been erased by the pandemic as women bore the brunt of ‘essential work’, care-giving and lost service-sector jobs.

Disappointingly – despite its adverse impacts pervading most sectors and geographies – gender is largely absent from conversations on global investor action. Palpably gender-driven harms are often subsumed under broader ‘worker’ or ‘human’ rights frameworks, or the ‘S’ in ESG, or ‘human capital’ in research and standard-setting.

Gender-based violence and harassment

Data on corporations is improving but the full impact of gender-related issues can be hard to uncover. Companies may distance themselves from gender-based violence and harassment – so pervasive that, disturbingly, it has its own acronym, ‘GBVH’ – in their supply chains, sub-contracted, or franchised operations. They may bind women employees to forgo access to courts in favour of mandatory arbitration.

See also: – The dos and don’ts of diversity data

As investors, we see both gender-related risks and opportunities for well-managed, gender-inclusive and gender-supportive corporations to benefit from innovation, talent retention, resilience and societal wellbeing. Gender has long underpinned our work, as women are hardest hit by the interconnected crises of climate change, rising inequality and human wellbeing. Our pathbreaking work has led to changes on uncomfortable issues like child sex tourism in the hotel industry.

Now, as part of our ambitious corporate engagement efforts on equity and inclusion, we are building a gender-priority approach across sectors, regions, and the corporate value-chain on products, processes, and policies. We are ready to pull back the curtains and let gender take centre stage.

This article first appeared in ESG Clarity sister publication Portfolio Adviser.


Natasha Turner

Natasha is global editor at ESG Clarity, part of Mark Allen Financial, and has been a financial journalist for seven years. She has been shortlisted for Story of the Year and Investment Journalist of the...