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Impact Investing

These investments aim to push for workplace diversity and gender-pay equity

Key Points
  • If you want to invest in companies based on how well they integrate women, there are funds that follow that strategy.
  • These investments typically select companies based on certain criteria, such as how many women are in companies' management ranks.
  • The funds also strive to perform well. “You don’t have to give up anything for equality,” one investment executive says.
A child stands next to the 'Fearless Girl' after a ceremony to unveil the statue's new location across from the New York Stock Exchange on Dec. 10, 2018 in New York City.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images News | Getty Images

If you want to see a better gender balance in the workforce, you may want to consider putting your money where your mouth is.

Enter gender and diversity funds, which screen for certain characteristics — such as women in leadership — and let you back companies that share those priorities.

These are funds that seek to make a measurable impact, alongside financial return, by investing in companies with a record of measuring and improving workplace diversity and equal pay for equal work.

Among U.S. asset managers, there are 15 funds — exchange-traded funds and mutuals — that fall into the gender and diversity sustainable investing category, according to investment research company Morningstar.

That includes 10 funds provided by Calvert Research and Management. Those funds consider gender and diversity investment criteria alongside other environment, social and governance priorities.

Four other funds are focused primarily on gender and diversity: Glenmede Women in Leadership U.S. Equity Portfolio, Impact Shares YWCA Women's Empowerment ETF, Pax Ellevate Global Women's Leadership Fund and State Street's SPDR SSGA Gender Diversity Index ETF.

One fund — SerenityShares' Impact ETF — closed in March, two years after it launched. It had less than $5 million in assets under management.

"We never hit the critical mass for being able to cover the cost of offering the fund," said Scott Sacknoff, CEO of SerenityShares. "Most advisors wanted to be the next dollar in, not the first dollar."

But other fund managers are still betting that, with the right company selection, their funds can outperform and appeal to investors.

"There's just volumes of data out there that shows that companies that invest more in women do better financially and economically," said Julie Gorte, senior vice president for sustainable investing at Impax Asset Management and Pax World Funds. "You don't have to give up anything for equality."

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Closing the gap

Pax's women-focused fund became an index-based mutual fund in 2015. Prior to that, it was an actively managed fund.

Today, it has about $318 million in assets.

The fund was started in the 1990s, and in the mid-2000s came under Pax and CEO Joe Keefe, who has a "personal vision and commitment" to gender equality, according to Gorte. Sallie Krawcheck, CEO of Ellevest, partnered with Pax in 2014 to provide this latest version of the fund.

The strategy works by building an index using five criteria when evaluating companies: board diversity, diversity of upper management, CEO gender, CFO gender, and endorsement and implementation of the Women's Empowerment Principles of the United Nations.

The company would love to include other parameters — such as gender pay ratio or the gender makeup of the workforce, Gorte said. Much of that data, however, is not publicly available, she said.

"There will come a day, I'm sure, when companies all report these things, either because they have to or because it's so material that they can't not," Gorte said. "But this is not that day."

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Pax's fund comes up with an index of about 400 companies after ranking them in the MSCI World Index based on gender criteria. The index is updated annually, which means that companies may be dropped if their performance lags.

The fund's current top holdings include Microsoft, Ulta Beauty, Intuit, Estee Lauder and American Water Works.

Another, smaller fund that began trading in August is the Impact Shares YWCA Women's Empowerment ETF.

The fund is a collaboration between Impact Shares, a provider of socially conscious ETFs, and the nonprofit YWCA, which advocates for women's and minorities' rights.

Like Pax's fund, it is also based on an index, which is provided by Morningstar. The top 200 companies are selected based on equality scores they receive from Equileap, which promotes gender equality in the workplace.

The scores are based on criteria including gender balance in a company's leadership and workforce, equal compensation, work-life balance, policies around equality, and transparency and accountability. Companies may be screened out if they have a legal history of discrimination or sexual harassment cases, among other reasons.

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Impact Shares' fund has about $4.1 million in assets under management. It includes more than 200 U.S. large and mid-cap companies.

Some of its largest holdings include Amazon, Apple, Intel, J.P. Morgan Chase and Microsoft.

Morningstar agreed to collaborate with Impact Shares because of its belief in the benefits of diversity and inclusion, said Dan Lefkovitz, index strategist at Morningstar.

"The companies that score well for gender criteria also tend to be competitively positioned well," Lefkovitz said. "They tend to be financially healthy, and they tend to be less volatile than their peers."