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Bet on women with Barclays’ new index

Investors looking to bet that companies are better-performing with a woman at the helm will have an opportunity to put their money where their mouths are, with the launch of Barclays' Women in Leadership Total Return Index.

The bank's Barclays Women in Leadership Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs) will be launched on the NYSE Arca Exchange on Friday. ETNs are a type of unsecured, unsubordinated debt securities, where the returns are based on the performance of an index – in this case the Women in Leadership Total Return Index.

Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo
Justin Solomon | CNBC
Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo

Only U.S. companies with either a female CEO or at least a quarter of female board members will be included in the index. The companies must also meet certain market capitalization and trading volume thresholds.

Read MoreWant to boost shareholder returns? Hire a woman

Barclays said these ETNs were "designed to provide investors with exposure to U.S. companies with gender-diverse executive leadership and governance," in a statement Thursday.

Greater returns?

The launch follows a raft of research claiming that organizations perform better with a strong female bias in the boardroom. In a survey of 50 North American and U.K. companies, PA Consulting Group found that those with females on their board boasted higher total shareholder returns (TSR) over a six-year period.

Read MoreWork-life debate: Can women have it all?

It came after a study, published in 2011 by non-profit organization Catalyst, revealed that company boards made up of 19-44 percent women achieved 26 percent more return on invested capital than those firms with no women directors. While separate research by UBC's Sauder School of Business found that the more women a company has on its board – the less it pays for acquisitions.

"We believe that providing ETNs and indices that enable investors to allocate capital to this theme will provide a market-based approach to help catalyze change," Barbara Byrne, vice chairman in investment banking at Barclays.

Read MoreBoardroom boys club: Women still mostly shut out

But Barclays isn't the one to offer products for investors to back women in business. Motif Investing created a "No Glass Ceilings" index in 2012, for instance, which includes only U.S. stocks with female CEOs.

Stocks on the index include Hewlett Packard, with CEO Meg Whitman, and PepsiCo, whose CEO is Indra Nooyi. Over the past year, it returned 20.5 percent, according to Motif - higher than the S&P 500's 18 percent rise.

News of Barclays' index comes as the bank struggles to rebuild its reputations after a string of scandals. It has been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for the alleged rigging of libor interest rates and manipulation of gold prices, and has also come under fire for its rising bonus pool. Over a third of its shareholders failed to back its remuneration pay proposals at this year's AGM.

Last week Barclays announced that it had partnered with Cambridge University to create a "Compliance Career Academy" to bolster the training of staff.

—By CNBC's Katrina Bishop

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