Invest in Gender Equality

An Introduction to Gender Inequality

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development places gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at the heart of its implementation with its promise to “leave no one behind”. It provides an unprecedented opportunity to transform the lives of women and girls and to catalyze progress towards sustainable development in all dimensions

UN Women (2018)

Equality is premised on equal treatment, opportunities, rights, and access. To address inequality, we must first recognize that within a society, certain groups experience discrimination for their gender, race, religion, etc., daily. Inequality prevents targeted groups from participating fully and freely in the world, stifling a society from utilizing the potential of all its members. Women have long been marginalized across the globe, and while some progress has been made with regard to legal rights and anti-discrimination policies, there is still a long way to go. Gender inequality can manifest implicitly through social norms and cognitive biases but also explicitly through policies and infrastructures. This integrated and systemic injustice disproportionately affects women across a wide range of social issues such as healthcare, finance, and education. Security and support in these areas are integral for the success and wellbeing of all society’s members, yet women find themselves battling to be adequately accounted for within these issues.

Gender and Healthcare

Healthcare is a fundamental human right where women experience many challenges. One of the biggest and most controversial issues facing women is over their reproductive rights. Women should have autonomy over their bodies and be able to choose whether or when to have children but countries across the world, including the U.S, have policies that restrict this agency. In the United States, reproductive rights have diminished further and further; since 2011, 500 laws have been passed restricting abortion access in various states. Furthermore, according to the CDC, over 19 million women in need live in contraceptive deserts in the U.S, and over 1 million women in need live in countries without access to a single health center that provides the full range of contraceptive methods. This creates a landscape where women do not have the power to make their own reproductive choices (through lack of contraception) and then denial of services to deal with unwanted pregnancies. This particularly impacts women of low socioeconomic status and members of minority groups. Women of color often face medical racial discrimination resulting in lower use in long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) and are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. The gender bias in medicine can be attributed to the decision-makers being predominantly male across time. This results in the oppression of women’s self-determination and the perpetuation of harmful but still accepted gender norms. One example is health-related gender-based violence: globally, 13 million adolescent girls have experienced rape, and more than 200 million girls in 30 countries across Africa, the Middle East, and Asia experienced female genital mutilation. FGM is an extremely life-threatening practice, and while there are no clear-cut health benefits, it is unfortunately still culturally accepted in some regions of the developing world. This practice is primarily motivated by religious or cultural beliefs about how women should be a part of society. Ensuring health in girls and women is essential to achieving empowerment, autonomy, and equality.

Gender and Education

Like all social issues, the challenges faced fostering gender equality in education varies depending on the region. In the developed world, we see girls discouraged from subjects such as math and science while boys are discouraged from reading and writing. In contrast, young girls struggle even to attend and complete their education in developing nations. In nations like the United States, expectations about how boys and girls perform and behave socially create educational environments where the children are pushed towards certain career pathways. Women are overrepresented in lower-paid industries and lower-paid positions. For example, more than 75% of public-school teachers in the United States are women. Young girls are exposed to such a small range of role models, limiting how young girls see the potential of their careers influencing their educational path leading up to their entry into the workforce. In the words of Marian Wright Edelman, “you can’t be what you can’t see”. Furthermore, beliefs about the skillsets of girls influence the activities and opportunities encouraged inside and outside of the classroom. This issue continues to manifest through higher education, where women are overrepresented in 6 of the 10 lowest-paying college majors, while 9 of the 10 highest paying majors are dominated by men. In the developing world, the majority of the young girls find themselves not even finishing primary school with some cultural perceptions seeing little for them beyond tending to household responsibilities. Girls’ education is not valued, and in instances of financial restraints, families are more likely to spend money to educate boys than girls. This is one of the reasons why in regions like Sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 4 girls of primary school age don’t attend school, and 92% of girls never complete secondary education. At the bare minimum, ensuring young girls complete their education is essential in empowering them and expanding the opportunities women have in deciding a future for themselves. 

These are just a few examples of how women are still marginalized in many important areas of life. Addressing the issues above is at the core of creating an equal, fair, and safe society. They are supported across FLIT’s investment themes; 03 Affordable Healthcare and 05 Clean Water, to name a couple. The investment theme 06 Gender Equality looks beyond the bare minimum of equality in the form of security and seeks to combat gender discrimination in the workplace. This considers equal representation, appropriate policies, and the gender pay gap.

Gender Representation in Leadership Positions

Across all industries and professions, there is severe gender disparity in representation within the workforce. Women are underrepresented in high-paid positions and overrepresented in low-paid positions. That translates into a real lack of women in leadership roles.

Since 2000, the percentage of women in senior and mid-level managerial positions globally has only increased by 3%, achieving a mere 28.2% in 2019. At the same time, women account for nearly 39% of the global labor force. At the C-Suite level, it is even direr; in 2020, women only represented 7.4% of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies, and of this small portion, only 3 were women of color.

It is undeniable that the pandemic provided a clear opportunity to recognize the need for women in decision-making, yet it has exacerbated gender disparity. Globally, women make up 74% of medical doctors and nursing personnel and played a critical role in the COVID-19 response as frontline workers, caregivers, and more. At the same time, women remain underrepresented in critical leadership roles. By large, the stifled career progression of women can be attributed to problematic beliefs about women’s ability to fulfill high-level leadership roles. Historically, men have occupied the majority of the leadership positions, and thus leadership theories and qualities have been formed in their image. Such narrow-viewed opinions breed cultural beliefs that women either don’t have leadership characteristics or those female characteristics are not compatible with leadership roles at all. Research suggests that it is quite in fact the opposite. Women adopt complementary leadership styles to men, and such gender diversity reaps considerable benefits for businesses. Examples include improved access to talent, enhanced decision-making, greater consumer insights, and strengthened employee engagement. Moreover, inadequate female representation in leadership positions works to perpetuate sexist practices that make the workplace a dangerous and oppressive environment for women- gender equality is essential for employee protection and company success.

The chart below, taken from a recent Mckinsey Institute report, clearly demonstrates the gender disparity in leadership. It displays the percentage of female candidates in the talent pipeline up the corporate ladder across various industries. The rate of women for each role decreases as we move from entry-level to more senior positions maintaining the gendered corporate hierarchy that attributes leadership qualities and success to men.

Gender Disparity in Promotion

Before even achieving leadership, women face barrier after barrier attempting to climb the career ladder: from early gender biases influencing education pathways to stereotypes about what is regarded as ‘suitable’ work for women. Gender bias puts severe limitations on the upward mobility of women in the workplace in the form of promotions and mentorship.

According to the Pew Research Centre, 10% of women in the workplace felt they had been passed over when delegating important assignments compared to 5% of men. It’s not just a feeling; the statistics back it up: for every 100 men getting promoted, 72 women are promoted. For women of color, the numbers are worse, with 68 for Latina women and 58 for Black women.

It is not that women are not qualified for the role nor lack ambition; in the U.S., nearly 60% of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are obtained by women. It is more the case that men receive greater mentorship and support to achieve their career ambitions. Women are less likely to have a sponsor who advocates and opens doors for them, in corporate America specifically, women are 24% less likely to receive advice from seniors compared to men. When women do have mentors, the feedback is often vague and pertains to their style, e.g., intonation or mannerisms, whereas men get skills-based feedback that actively helps to improve performance. There are significant benefits when women are mentored and supported to achieve promotions into leadership roles. It seems it’s mainly women who act as mentors despite being a minority in executive positions; 38% of women compared to 26% of men at senior-level either mentor or sponsor at least one woman of color in their workplace. In the same breath, 62% of women of color say they believe a lack of mentorship is what holds them back. This illustrates the salience of having a diverse leadership body not simply for the financial return as outlined earlier but also to aid diversity efforts within the company.

Gender Pay Gap

The most commonly known form of gender inequality in the workplace is arguably the pay gap. In 2020, The Department of Labor recorded that women earned 82.3% of their male counterparts did that is, for the same role, workload, responsibility, and performance, women are paid less than men. This has improved since the rise in pay-gap reports, but inequity remains. The gender pay gap is widest for women of color and can be found in almost every profession. For some occupations such as physicians and surgeons, women collectively earn nearly $19 billion less than if they were paid the same as men in the same position. This inequality originates in systematic prejudice, which can be the toughest form to break. Resistance often sits with those who have to choose between paying women more or men less to close this gap. However, there is a considerable economic benefit for narrowing the gender pay gap: McKinsey Global Institute suggests that $12 trillion could be added to global GDP by advancing the economic potential of women. The U.S alone could add up to $4.3 trillion in annual GDP in 2025 if gender equality is achieved. They outline three sources of this revenue: 40% from higher percentage female participation in the workforce, 30% from narrowing the gender pay gap in part-time and full-time workers, 30% from integrating women into typically male-heavy sectors or fields of innovation. The highest paying and growing industries right now are in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Occupations in these fields earn two-thirds more than employees in other fields, and women only comprise 28% of this workforce. Ending gender inequality is not only a moral obligation but also financially advantageous.

The Motherhood Penalty

The trials of women in the workplace do not stop here. Policies oppress and disadvantage women in the workplace. The 2021 UN SDG Report recalled that more than 90% of countries in the 2020 data collection prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of gender. Still, almost half continue to place restrictions on women for certain industries.

Policies can act to promote or prevent gender equality and can be direct like the restrictions on industries or indirectly such as “The Motherhood Penalty”. This term, coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild refers to the general policies and trends in the workplace that significantly disadvantage mothers. Women who take a year off from work earn 39% less upon their return than women who do not.

This results in a pay gap between women and a workplace culture that suggests motherhood and careers exist as a dichotomy for women. Many face micro-aggressions due to unsupportive policies such as the parent-profession conflict. A Pew Research survey focused on parents with children under 18 found that 27% of mothers felt they were being treated as if they weren’t committed to their work compared to 20% of men.
Furthermore, in 41% of American households with children, women are the primary breadwinners, meaning they’re most likely to take time off at some point in their professional career; this is despite paid parental leave not being a federal law in the United States. Without the protection of national policy, women are subject to the discretion of employers and senior personnel who are primarily men. Without women to advocate for female employees’ needs, it is no surprise that the motherhood penalty still exists today.

Introduction to Solutions to Gender Inequality

Ending all forms of harm and discrimination based on gender is a prerequisite to achieving any of the UN SDGs and creating a just world. Women should be able to participate wholly and effectively in society, but it is also essential to pursue a just and sustainable world. Much of the UN SDG framework places responsibility on governments and parliamentary decision-makers. Still, the private sector and individual action are vital in securing social and cultural development for equality. FLIT provides an opportunity for everyday citizens to make an impact by investing in gender equality across social and environmental issues. One of the most effective ways to initiate change is by investing in sustainable, socially responsible companies and actively trying to achieve gender equality. This could be in a vast range of sectors where women are disproportionately affected, such as access to healthcare, the impact of environmental disasters, and economic despair, which each have their respective FLIT investment themes. For 06 Gender Equality, FLIT concentrates on gender equality in the world of work through policy, representation, and equitable pay.

Gender equality is integrated throughout the SDG framework and even has its own goal. SDG 5 Gender Equality has nine targets that can be summarised in 3 core themes: prevention of gender-based violence reduced inequalities in access to services, increased participation, and empowerment of women. The UN proposes that these be addressed by reformation oppressive social structures, enhanced access to technology, and adopting rigorous policies to ensure long-lasting gender equality. Other sustainable development goals support the journey to gender parity like SDG 10 – Reduced Inequalities which focuses on representation in decision-making, freedom from discrimination, and equal opportunities. While this goal considers a broad spectrum of characteristics pertaining to inequality such as age, disability, race, religion, all of the targets are also applied to gender. SDG 10 emphasizes the reforming policy, infrastructure, and social mechanisms that create and maintain inequality rather than the everyday experience of gender inequality that SDG 5 considers. It looks beyond simply protecting women from harm but actively promoting and empowering them in society. The UN reflects a multilateral approach to addressing gender equality in its integration of gender-based targets and the variety of partnerships that have been formed. This includes the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender Equality (IANWGE), UNICEF programs relating to FGM, child marriage and education, and the World Health Organisation.

In the past 25 years, progress towards gender equality has been made through the reformation and generation of policies. Still, gaps remain. In all areas of life, whether at home, at work, or in politics, women are denied decision-making power. As of 2019, female representation in national parliaments internationally ranged from 0 – 61.3%, with an average of 24%. This is an increase since 2010 when the average was 19%. At the local level, women’s representation in elected deliberative bodies ranges from 1 to 50%, with an average of 26%.

It is clear that some countries are wildly succeeding while others are still excluding women to an extreme. Most progress made in recent years can be attributed to the adoption of gender quotas. In 2020, women held 27.4% of parliamentary seats in nations with gender legislation compared to 15.6% in nations without.

This impact can be seen across all levels of politics. Since the release of the 2030 agenda, many nations have implemented structural mechanisms to ensure the targets are achieved. This includes government and corporate development of policies, gender quotas, and representation mandates. Examples of this at the national level can be seen in Australia and the Philippines, at the local level in Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, and Nepal. Other approaches have included improving the rigor of data collection for gender statistics such as Colombia, Cuba, and Norway. It is evident what needs to be done but addressing gender equality does not come without obstacles.

Despite such progress, implementing gender parity policies at the national level faces challenges. Gender inequality is based on prejudice and discrimination, which are social phenomena shaped by the media and held by society. The lack of adequate infrastructure enabling gender equality contributes to the minimal results those national policies yield. For example, a gender quota may be implemented across industries, but many women are caregivers, and if not also supported with affordable childcare, family caregivers, etc., then the workplace remains inaccessible and they will also not benefit from such quotas. There remains an opportunity to successfully implement SDG5 and other equality-related targets. This looks different at the local, national and global levels. At the local level, the focus needs to be on improved delivery of services and spending in areas of greater gender parity. The emphasis resides in eliminating gender inequality at the national level through legal frameworks and policies alongside national gender equality mechanisms that ensure diverse and effective leadership. Governments must utilize and improve existing mechanisms to demonstrate progress towards gender parity at the global level. The collection and reporting of data at all levels provide opportunities to assess progress, identify regional trends and support peer learning. There remains a gap in the success of gender equality as far as accountability of intervention is concerned. Implementing targets relating to gender equality involves building schemes that track and measure progress monitoring the function. It is only then that actual progress can be made. Such examples include gender policies, participation monitoring, and pay gap reports.

Nielsen Holdings – Case Study

In Equileap’s recent gender equality assessment of the entire S&P 500, Neilsen Holdings scored well across multiple metrics. The data and market measurement firm ranked second for equal compensation, gender balance in leadership and workforce, and policies, among other metrics. Nielsen’s equality score came out at 70%, just 4% shy of the top company globally-Diageo. Not only is this score impressive, but they are leading from an industry where women are underrepresented as a whole.

Nielsen stood out in areas of transparency, representation in senior management, and workplace policies. In senior management positions, women have a majority representation of 51%, and the company has a female CFO. Additionally, Neilsen makes a public commitment to gender parity in pay, and they have numerous corporate policies that promote gender equality in the workplace. For example, they have a supplier diversity program targeting women-owned businesses. In addition to this, Neilsen’s training and development policy ensure equal access to career development irrespective of gender.

The company performed well in this review, but Nielsen still has room for improvement – female representation on the board of directors is below 40%. Based on their scores, it is expected to be achieved in the coming years. They stand as an example to others pursuing just, sustainable development – achievements in SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 10 (Reducing Inequalities) can be seen throughout the metrics. Nielsen Holdings is a company that has made changes to its organizational structure, allowing them to make decisions and strategically influence the operations and culture of the organization from senior positions (SDG 5/10). They promote a safe workspace space for women in their policies (SDG5) and have strong performance in addressing the gender pay gap (SDG 10).

FLIT Invest Gender Equality Portfolio

We can all see the universal applicability and importance of an issue like gender equality. Because of this, there are various companies among a diverse number of industries in FLIT’s investment portfolio. While there are many standards in achieving Gender Equality, such as the Women Empowerment Principles, SDGs 5 and 10, and other gender assessment indices/goals, the underlying objective, and methods to achieve this are similar across the board. While we’re not at a place of absolute gender equality, FLIT is here to help investors put their resources into the companies headed in the right direction.

FLIT impact metrics

The six main metrics used at FLIT to measure companies’ progress are as follows:

  1. Representation of women on the board of directors: this metric is important because it can reflect the strategic influence women have in dictating an organization’s policies. It indicates if there is a genuine promotion of gender equality by showing that other policies in place are not just “tokens” to portray the company in a positive light.
  2. Representation of women in executive management: this metric can show how many women are on the frontline of decision-making during the day-to-day running of a company.
  3. Hiring, Promotion & Retention of women: this metric can give an idea of a company/organization’s work environment. Data on this offers insights into whether a company equally values the output and qualifications of women and can also hint at whether any discriminatory policies may see women leaving at disproportionate numbers.
  4. Gender pay equity: this metric can give a glimpse into the climate of an organization, especially if the numbers are overwhelmingly disproportionate. This depicts whether social mobility is possible and fair in the workplace for women.
  5. Proactive gender goals/targets and or signatory of the women empowerment principles: this metric refers to the set of principles intended to guide businesses on promoting gender equality in the workplace. Having goals or targets for gender equality provides a definite strategy and serves as indicators to hold a company accountable.
  6. Transparency about gender diversity data: this metric demands honesty and accountability and shows how serious a company is about its gender equality commitment.

Investment Rationale

The main disadvantage of discrimination from a business perspective is missing out on key talents. There is plenty of evidence that talent is not differentially distributed by gender, age, or geography. Diversity brings value also by bringing different experiences and perspectives together, leading to better decision-making. We firmly believe companies with equal representation at the board and management level, gender pay equity, transparency on gender diversity, and proactive gender goals and targets will overperform their peers. There is already strong evidence that diverse companies perform financially better, and we believe institutional investors will also increasingly favor companies who score better on gender equality targets.

The Benefits of Expert Curation on Gender Equality Investing

Our team at FLIT has researched hundreds of investment funds and companies, and we curated a portfolio that we believe embodies the gender equality theme in multiple sectors. Each company is screened for (i) representation of women at board and (ii) management level, (iii) hiring, promotion, and retention of women, (iv) gender pay equity (v) proactive gender goals and targets, and (vi) transparency about gender diversity data. We provide users with transparent data on each company regarding their sustainability practices to ensure an investment that aligns with their values.

Unfortunately, many funds are promoted as gender-equality-focused but only in their name. For example, the largest “Gender equality fund” only supported women 20% of the time they faced a vote. They also failed to support any of the pay-equity resolutions that came to a vote in their portfolio between 2016-2018. Using our selected metrics, we are confident that we are able to select the best-performing funds and companies whose intentions and actions are indeed in line with our values.

If you agree with our goals and approach to achieving gender equality, sign up for our waitlist! Once FLIT launches, it will be as easy as selecting the “Gender Equality” investment theme at sign up. Our team will handle the rest.

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Prior to founding FLIT Invest, Alejandro worked at J.P. Morgan’s Private Bank in New York, where he oversaw and managed investments for ultra-high net worth families. Before J.P. Morgan, he was an investment analyst at Northwestern Mutual, responsible for developing comprehensive financial plans and asset allocation models. Alejandro is a CFA charterholder and former professional soccer player.

Steven is a UX/UI Designer based in Los Angeles, CA. He received his BA from CSULB focusing on graphic design. Steven approaches his projects with a keen eye for design while prioritizing user-friendly solutions. He is passionate about animal welfare, and environmental causes.

Prior to FLIT, Kinga worked at Ericsson as a software developer specializing in data analysis where she developed machine learning models to evaluate the quality of the encrypted media traffic over mobile networks. She is an advocate for promoting a transparent and effective work environment. Kinga values diversity and feels strongly about providing access to education. She has a sweet tooth, loves reading and HIIT training.

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Prior to founding FLIT Invest, Richard was an investment banker at ING in London. He advised banks, asset & wealth managers, FinTechs and other financial institutions on mergers & acquisitions, financing and other strategic projects. He is an impact investing enthusiast having advised BlueOrchard – leading global impact investing asset manager – on their sale to Schroders. Richard is a former professional triathlete, vegetarian and nature enthusiast.

Serena is a sales and growth professional. She has experience in rapidly scaling revenues for consumer products through the deployment of marketing campaigns and team strategy development. Serena has a keen eye for identifying and implementing emerging consumer trends that result in better user experiences. She is passionate about criminal justice reform and is a loud voice in the fight for gender and racial equality.

Martin is a Software Architect and Developer whose goal is to make FLIT Invest an application that puts usability and security first. Martin started his career in finance, where he developed an integrated treasury solution for banks and corporations. Then he deep-dived into medical imaging at Siemens Healthcare, where he spent years developing a next-generation radiography system. Martin is an avid traveler and loves cycling, hiking, and skiing.

Zsolt has worked as a Software Engineer in Germany, Scotland, and Hong Kong. His work experience lies predominantly in the FinTech industry, both in startups and well-established companies. Before FLIT Invest, Zsolt was a developer at Asia’s leading wealth management platform in Hong Kong. Alongside FLIT, Zsolt is completing his Master’s Degree in applied mathematics in London. In his free time, he enjoys swimming and reading fiction.

Tina is a UX/UI Designer based in Los Angeles, CA. Her expertise in both Economics and Interactive Design allows her to approach topics from a variety of perspectives in order to create products, assist people, and solve problems. She characterized challenges in a larger scope as an explorer, and she continued to look for solutions that would better human life. In addition to design, Tina is enthusiastic about women’s issues in society and animal welfare in various countries.

Peter is a Mobile Engineer with extensive experience in native iOS and Android app development. He has worked with various Fortune 500 companies across industries including fintech, transportation, human resources, energy, accounting, and pharmaceuticals. Being a lifelong learner he’s always eager to acquire new skills in various topics. He’s enthusiastic about different aspects of finance, and in his free time he enjoys working out.

Nick is a User Researcher based in Los Angeles, CA. After receiving his BA in Psychology, he moved on to receive a certificate in UX/UI from UCLA which set him on the path to understanding users. Nick approaches User Research with an empathetic lens, ensuring that every user’s needs are considered in each step of the process. Nick is passionate about providing sustainable change, and in his free time, he’s looking for another national park to check off the list.

Brian is a self-taught iOS developer based in Los Angeles, CA. Driven by a strong interest in finance and renewable energy, he takes pride in being part of a team that takes huge steps towards a greener future. Prior to joining FLIT, Brian played multiple competitive games such as League of Legends at a top-tier level- applying the same mindset of growth and improvement from gaming to his iOS development. Brian is often playing the piano in his free time and is extremely fascinated by artificial intelligence.

Rob is an impact investing analyst passionate about sustainability and its role in finance. Currently, he is a student at the University at Buffalo (UB), where he is the President of the UB Sustainable Business Association and a Board Member of the UB Equity Research Group. In his free time, you can catch Rob exercising or golfing.

Holly is a BSc Psychology with International Placement graduate from the University of Manchester, UK. She has worked and volunteered in the social care sector for 7 years and whilst at university, established an award-winning student zero-waste shop. She is passionate about social justice and environmental sustainability, and in her spare time volunteers as a Scout Leader and enjoys going for tea and cake with friends.

Jake is an entrepreneur, designer, and biologist passionate about sustainability. Previously, Jake founded VOSTIC, a company that manufactured and distributed a kelp-based replacement for plastic. Jake holds a master’s degree in Design Systems from Pacific Northwest College of Art and a bachelor’s degree in Biology from Lewis & Clark College. On weekends you might find him making music or snowboarding at Mt. Hood.