Others contend that the performance battle being waged by diversity funds will always be incidental to a larger cause: the psychological impulse within some investors to make the world a better place.
"Investors don't go into a diversity fund because they think it's going to be the best-performing equity ETF in the marketplace," said Todd Rosenbluth, director of ETF research at S&P Capital IQ. "They know these funds are unlikely to match the performance of a large-cap growth ETF attached to the Russell 1000." He compared an investment in a diversity fund to any niche asset class, and in contrast to the core large-cap equity portfolios, such as emerging market equity or small-cap health care.
The Workplace Equality ETF does hold its fair share of blue-chip stocks: General Electric, Apple, Cisco Systems, and Emerson Electric.
The Pax Ellevate Global Women's Index Fund—launched in June by Pax World Funds and Wall Street veteran Sallie Krawcheck—includes household names such as Coca-Cola, Nike, Microsoft, Google and Walt Disney.
"These blue-chip companies could really be a core holding for any investor," said Joseph Keefe, president and CEO of Pax World Funds.
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Keefe said diversity of staff and a company's bottom line are irrefutably linked. The Pax Ellevate fund, which is a traditional index fund rather than ETF, benchmarks against the MSCI World Index to invest in some 400 globally top-rated companies when it comes to representation of women in the boardroom and in senior management (the MSCI World Index has 1,631 stocks).
One hundred percent of the companies in the fund have at least one woman on the board; 97 percent have two or more; 69 percent have three or more. Average overall board membership is 31 percent women versus 11 percent globally, while 24 percent of management positions are held by women versus 11 percent globally.