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Where Is Gender In the ESG Gold Rush?

Jackie Bennion, Deputy Editor, 11 October 2019

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Among a whole lot of pledging going on, a group of 66 investment firms is pushing peers to improve workplace equality in a new coalition.

While climate change has become the alpha theme among ESG investors as sustainable funds are rapidly launched, what has perhaps taken a back seat in this trend is governance, particularly corporate performance on gender equality.

This week, Natixis Investment affiliate Mirova nudged it back into view when the Paris-based investment firm announced that it is leading a coalition of 66 investors calling on companies to take more action on gender workplace equality. In particular, the group that manages more than €4 trillion in combined assets is asking companies through a joint statement to sign up to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs) backed by the UN Global Compact and UN Women to accelerate change. Releasing the statement is a way to “reaffirm the importance of gender equality and notify [companies] that investors are paying growing attention to this issue,” Mirova said.

The seven principles include:

1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
3: Ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of all women and men workers
4: Promote education, training and professional development for women
5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality

It's "a triple-win" prospect that brings “better investments for investors; impact-driven change by investees; and decent work, opportunities and decision-making that empower women and girls,” Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, under secretary-general of the United Nations, and executive director of UN Women, said.

Achieving gender equality and “empowering all women and girls” is Number 5 of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs that fund managers have begun universally incorporating into their sustainable investment offerings. The SDGs were created in 2015 as a way for companies and governments to get the world on a more sustainable footing. Results day on how well that is going is due in 2030.

Up to now, more than 2,000 companies have signed up to follow the UN women's principles.This publication has asked UN Women and Mirova for comment on progress and what measurable impact the WEPs has had among existing signatories. We may add updates with those responses.

Mirova CEO Philippe Zaouati, leading the campaign, said: “Increasingly, the underrepresentation of women in top-level management positions in the private sector is seen as an urgent challenge, not only from a fairness and equality perspective, but also because it may impede performance. We believe that a company that promotes and takes decisive and concrete actions towards gender equality is a company that will create value not only for its investors, but for all of the stakeholders.”

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