Gender lens investing: Banks not included


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At the tail end of 2018, banks still seem to be a long way from equality.

Research from Veris Wealth Partners at the end of October showed an encouraging increase in the number of assets dedicated to gender lens investing – financing companies that support pay and job equality, or that support women-owned businesses.

In four years, gender lens funds have grown from $100 million to $2.4 billion globally. Veris’ chief executive, Patricia Farrar-Rivas, anticipates that figure will grow more than 10-fold within the next five years.

It’s a positive sign for the financial industry that banks and investment houses are offering more gender lens products to their clients, but would bank stocks make it into a gender lens investment portfolio? Probably not.

On the heels of revelations of a yawning gender pay gap at many of banks this year, the industry has had to deal with its own scandals of sexual harassment and discrimination.

UBS, for example, is currently investigating two sexual assault allegations. In Australia, the Haynes Royal Commission into the financial services industry has published reports from the four largest banks in the country showing widespread sexual harassment over the last decade.

Discrimination has also been put under the spotlight in the US by Christine Walika who, after 25 years with the American Bankers Association, filed a lawsuit in October claiming the ABA discriminated against women and minorities. Wells Fargo, too, is dealing with complaints that one male executive has used derogatory language with female employees.

Diversity data

Greater gender diversity within the financial industry might well reduce such incidents, and yet recent data from bank governance research firm, Aktis, shows that only two thirds of the largest 25 EU banks have a clear policy on gender diversity.

We are at the end of 2018, how can we still be at a point where a third of the largest banks in the EU have not set targets for equal representation, nor even have some vague plan they can point to regarding diversity?

And while Aktis says female representation at board level has increased by 20 percentage points in a decade – from 14.9% in 2007 to 34.9% in 2017 – only two banks in this EU top 25 have 50% female representation on their boards: BNP Paribas and Société Générale.

Female representation on executive committees is even lower. The average number of women there is just 15%, and five of the largest 25 EU banks have no women at all at that level.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems.