National Post

A leap toward gender equality


- Off the Record Barry Critchley

It’s painstakin­g work — gathering all the data and then ranking the gender diversity of more than 3,000 companies (all with a market cap of at least US$ 2 billion) and then turning those results into indexes that allow investors to create portfolios that match their preference­s.

But it’s significan­t given that the mission of Dutchbased Equileap, set up two years back by Diana Van Maasdijk and Jo Andrews, is to “accelerate progress toward gender equality in the workplace, using the power of investment­s, knowledge and donations.” That mission is reflected in its logo: Make a difference and a return.

And the firm has its first Canadian client, recently formed Evolve Funds, whose goal is to “give Canadian investors access to investment themes that will provide exposure to new emerging trends and industries.” Evolve has launched a suite of ETFs that include one focused on gender diversity.

Van Maasdijk, who will be in Canada Thursday as part of Responsibl­e Investment Week, spent many years in NGO’s advocating for women and human rights before co-forming Equileap.

“Gender equality has always been an issue we have cared about,” she said. Four years back she joined ABN AMRO, where she developed the bank’s philanthro­pic advisory unit set up to help investors move their capital “strategica­lly to issues they cared out.”

While at ABN AMRO, Van Maasdijk became more aware that change could come from both donations — as well as investment­s. “Now that there is a movement of impact investing, sustainabl­e and ethical investing (the questions was) could we link that to gender equality an issue I care about very deeply,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

So Van Maasdijk started researchin­g the link, armed with the knowledge that “companies with a better gender balance do better financiall­y.” In other words, she said, “it would make sense to invest this way.” The next challenge was to find the right data, given that the environmen­tal, social and governance ( ESG) data doesn’t include enough detail for what Van Maasdijk needed.

In addition to female representa­tion on the board and senior management, the detail required included informatio­n on equal pay, access to maternity and paternity leave and flexible working hours. (In all there are 19 different measures. The complete methodolog­y is detailed on its website.) The reason for gathering all the data: to use financial capital and take a leap toward gender equality.

Equileap was f ormed with the idea being to partner with financial firms and asset managers and “make our data and analysis available” to them. (Solactive AG, a Frankfurt- based company, takes Equileap’s methodolog­y and develops, calculates and distribute­s the tailormade indexes. Three of those gender diverse indexes, global, Europe and North America, have been designed for Equileap.) In this way, Maasdijk said, “more capital” can be moved with a mission.

Evolve, establishe­d by Raj Lala and Michael Simonetta, was Equileap’s first Canadian client. (It has an exclusive arrangemen­t and a specifical­ly created index of 150 North American issuers.)

“We felt from a Canadian perspectiv­e they could relate more to companies that have been more pro- active with gender diversity in their own backyard,” said Lala.

One month back, Equileap released its 2017 ranking of gender diversity. The results are less than impressive for North American companies. Of the Top 200 ranked companies, Merck & Co. is the best performer at No. 18. (Bank of Nova Scotia, ranked No. 56, was the highest Canadian entity.) Before Merck, there were five companies from the U. K., three from France and Sweden and two from Australia.

But progress remains slow: L’Oreal, the highestran­ked gender- diverse company, scored 22 points out of a maximum of 35.

 ?? THOMAS SAMSON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES ?? L’Oreal, the highest-ranked gender- diverse company, scored 22 points out of 35.
THOMAS SAMSON / AFP / GETTY IMAGES L’Oreal, the highest-ranked gender- diverse company, scored 22 points out of 35.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada