The Guardian Online Monday 26th October
This is not a bra-burning exercise, this is business.... if the fund does well then people will realise that gender diversity is a good thing. The two go hand-in-hand.
A fund that aims to invest in companies with a high number of women in senior roles will be launched next week, with backing from Cherie Blair and the former prime ministers of Canada and New Zealand, Kim Campbell and Jenny Shipley.
The Women's Leadership Fund, started by Zurich-based Naissance Capital, will invest in quoted companies and expects to have raised about $200m (£123m) by the end of the year, largely from "ideologically inclined wealthy individuals".
Daniel Tudor, who will manage the fund, said there had been a clutch of evidence to suggest that companies with a balance of men and women in senior jobs outperformed firms where there were largely men in control.
"We thought if these companies are genuinely outperforming then it would be good to offer investors something," he said. "This is not a bra-burning exercise, this is business. But if the fund does well, then people will realise that gender diversity is a good thing. The two go hand-in-hand."
He said Blair, who is on the board with Campbell and Shipley, had been extremely supportive of the fund and had spoken on behalf of the firm at a dinner in New York last month.
The company will also reserve a small part of the fund for more active investment, in an attempt to persuade male-dominated firms to change their policy.
Tudor said the fund would largely invest in the United States and Europe, where more balanced boards are likely to be found. He cited the clothing retailer H&M as a good example of a company which met its traditional investment metrics as well as having a near 50/50% split between men and women in senior roles. "A place like Japan has less than 1% women directors, so it is very hard to find companies that fit our criteria."
But he said that companies fitting the mould did exist in Asia, including ICICI Bank in India.
In marketing materials, the fund quotes a recent report from management consultancy McKinsey, which appears to prove that greater gender diversity improves both earnings and share prices. The report, Women Matter, found that companies with diverse management teams in Europe recorded an average earnings growth of 11.1% between 2003-2005 compared with the average 5.8%.
The report said that women occupy 11% of board positions at listed companies in Europe. Norway, where laws are being introduced to redress the balance, 31% of "executive committee" roles are filled by women, followed by Sweden (24%) and Bulgaria and Latvia (each with 21%). In the UK the figure is 12%. At the bottom of the table are Luxembourg, with just 1%, Italy (3%) and Spain (4%).
The investment firm hopes to launch a similar retail fund for small investors next year.