As investors come to recognise the benefits of boardroom diversity, Claire Marwick, investment manager at Aegon Asset Management, says that companies should be heeding the lessons of the Lionesses’ impact last year and looking to drive better female representation in the corporate arena.
The UEFA Women’s Championship of 2022 was a watershed moment in the popularisation of women’s football. Long the poor relation to the men’s game, the excitement and skills on show last Summer galvanised fans in a way they simply hadn’t been before, helped of course by England’s amazing run to lift the trophy. As a result, expectations are high for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, which kicks off on 20thJuly in Australia and New Zealand.
So, the Lionesses inspired change on the football pitch, but what about the boardroom, the executive suite, or the fund manager’s office? According to Aegon AM’s Marwick, female representation in business is increasingly recognised as an important consideration, not just on a personal level, but from an investment perspective, too.
She says, “Having more women in leadership roles should be front of mind for any competitive company right now. Not only does it help inspire fresh female talent to enter the industry while also fostering better practice on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion metrics, but there is also data to suggest a correlation between executive diversity and financial outperformance.”
According to a 2019 study from McKinsey, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the lowest quartile.
With this in mind, Marwick highlights three key areas where progress is evident, and examples of the companies which are driving this change.
Board-level representation – Trustpilot (TRST)
In the corporate domain, arguably the greatest representation of women can be found at board level, where there is now a well-established female presence and influence. In the UK, female board representation reached 40% this year, while last year the European Union adopted the same figure as its target.
According to Marwick, one of the businesses driving this progress is Trustpilot. “Trustpilot is an online platform for consumer reviews which provides trustworthy feedback to consumers, helping them make purchase decisions, while for its corporate customers it helps build credibility and provides insights into the customer experience.
“The business recently appointed a well-known female executive as board chair, hoping to harness her skills as it embarks on the next phase of growth, and this only strengthens our conviction that the firm has a bright future ahead of it.”
Senior management – Verisk Analytics (VRSK)
Women’s representation in senior management jobs slightly trails the boardroom. The accounting firm Grant Thornton put the proportion of women in senior management globally at 32% in 2022. Nevertheless, progress is improving.
By way of example, Marwick recalls a recent visit to the American data management company Verisk Analytics.
“It was an excellent meeting. Verisk is a leading data analytics company specialising in providing insights to its clients in the insurance industry. It excels in leveraging advanced analytics to help its clients make informed decisions and manage risk. But the meeting was notable for another reason: all the attendees – the chief financial officer, the head of investor relations, the representative of the broker, and the fund manager – were women.
“This is indicative of the increasing representation of women at the most senior levels, which is pleasing. However, meetings like this remain an exception, while all-male versions do not. In our investment approach, we look positively on diverse management teams, such as that we found at Verisk, because we believe that companies which harness the brainpower of all their employees have a better chance of success. We very much hope to see more firms follow suit.”
Recruitment – FDM Group (FDM)
Some companies take it a step further and have even built their entire business models around increasing the role of women and other minorities in the world of work. For example, Marwick points to FDM, an IT company that recruits, trains and deploys consultants for blue chip clients. They focus on recruiting graduates, returners to work and ex-military personnel.
“Tapping into professionally under-represented segments of society such as women returning to work after bringing up kids gives FDM a competitive edge. While only 31% of their workforce is female, they are the only company I have ever seen with a negative median gender pay gap; that is to say their median female employee is paid more than their median male employee.”
Turning to her own corner of the business world – fund management – Marwick notes that progress is notable but lagging far behind where it needs to be.
She says, “Recent data suggests that the proportion of female fund managers is stuck at 12% globally, and improvement over the years has been incredibly slow. We are pleased to see that many participants in this industry are increasingly keen to encourage young women to consider this as a career. And yet the dial has hardly moved in practice.
“So, let’s hope girls and boys watching the Women’s World Cup this summer are inspired to follow their own path, wherever that may take them – including to the boardroom, the C-suite and especially into fund management!”