Gender Diversity Symposium 2018
On the 19th of June, Castlefield welcomed friends of the company to the Manchester Art Gallery for our second summer event. The event was called “VOTE 100: Gender Diversity and Investment” and the aim was to explore diversity as a responsible investment theme. As a Mancunian company we are aware of the role that the city and its people played in ensuring The Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918. We wanted to celebrate this centenary and applaud the progress society has made, whilst noting the challenges we still face.
Following the arrival of our guests, John Eckersley, Managing Partner of Castlefield, introduced the event. He recognised the importance of Castlefield becoming a signatory of the Women in Finance Charter over the last year and how we are currently surpassing the gender diversity targets put in place as part of this initiative. However, he also drew upon the findings of a government-backed review which found that, despite a major drop in the number of top companies with all-male boards, many are still refusing to move with the times. This served as an excellent contrast between leaders and laggards on the journey to gender parity.
Before the first presentation began, John reminded us that it was in Manchester Art Gallery in 1913 that suffragettes took hammers to works of art for their cause. He urged attendees to leave their hammers at home and instead opt for “discussion not destruction” on this occasion.
The main presentation of the evening was delivered by Dr Lara Bianchi from the Alliance Manchester Business School. Lara is a Research Associate and Coordinator at the Business and Human Rights Catalyst and presented her work on the subject of Women Workers in Global Supply Chains. She reminded us that as well as being an important milestone for women in the UK, 2018 marks the 70-year anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Men and women have equal entitlement to the rights detailed within this document and it has cemented the idea that women’s rights are human rights.
Lara talked about the transformative power of business in achieving social justice for women workers by rectifying systemic inequalities. She spoke of the various challenges faced by global businesses when managing human rights risks, which are particularly gendered in some industries and regions, and how companies can mitigate those risks. She encouraged honesty about the problems and collaboration between businesses, public bodies and NGOs. She finished by sharing the business benefits of better protection of women, “Raising the status and respecting the dignity of women workers leads to increased productivity, improved quality, lower turnover of staff and market expansion.”
Following this presentation there was a panel discussion led by award-winning Castlefield Financial Adviser, Olivia Bowen. She touched upon the review John had previously mentioned and the excuses offered by business leaders who preside over all-male boards. The chairmen and CEOs of big UK businesses have claimed, ‘I don’t think women fit comfortably into the board environment’. Olivia also shared the startling findings of the 2017 World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report that the gender gap is widening and, at the current rate of progress, it is estimated that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries to achieve. She then looked to the collected impressive women from the world of investment, financial advice and academia for their views on how we can speed up progress.
Panellists included another academic from the business school, Professor Ser-Huang Poon. Professor Poon was able to share insights from her academic research. Ser-Huang presented evidence that female corporate leadership is associated with less incidence of human rights violations (and child labour in particular). She also shared research on US funds, which indicated that there is no difference in performance between male and female managed funds when there is only a single manager. For team managed funds, her evidence suggests that adding women to the team helps to improve Corporate Social Responsibility quality of the portfolio. It was useful to see the data that supports the idea that increased gender diversity offers benefits both to businesses and investment teams.
Other panellists providing food for thought were Claudia Quiroz, investment director at Quilter Cheviot Investment Management, and Ita McMahon, responsible investment analyst at Castlefield Investment Partners.
Claudia shared experiences from her career in the industry. Women are under-represented in fund management (just 13% of fund managers in the UK are female1) so it was great to hear her perspective. She spoke about the importance of a cultural shift to remove the stigma around flexible working. There was also discussion about how this would serve to benefit men as well as women. She was able to use herself as an example, to show that it is possible to be a successful female fund manager whilst working in a way that suited her family circumstances.
Claudia was also able to offer advice to women selecting a company to work for. She recommended looking at the structure and diversity already present in the firm and, when at interview if there is an all-male selection panel, this can be used as an indicator of the firm’s culture.
Ita spoke about the work Castlefield do when engaging with companies. Despite the discouraging comments from certain business leaders, Ita was able to share recent examples of Castlefield engagement with investee companies which paint a more hopeful picture. When raising the issue of diversity, Castlefield have found that often there is an understanding of the strategic benefits a more diverse team can bring.
Ita also praised the work of collective engagement in achieving progress. She pointed to the Workforce Disclosure initiative (WDi), which gathers investors together to encourage transparency from companies about their human capital. One of the key issues covered by the WDi is the gender balance within supply chains, as female workers are often disproportionately impacted by low wages, excessive working hours and exploitative recruitment practices. By encouraging companies with global supply chains to monitor and report on gender balance at different seniority levels, this can help to identify potential human rights risks and hopefully mitigate them.
Ita and Claudia felt that, from their experience of meeting with company boards, the issue of gender diversity could be used as a barometer for how open they would be to tackling other social issues. This was supported by Ser-Huang’s research which indicates that more gender diverse senior teams are connected to reduced levels of controversy. All agreed that, whilst gender diversity might not be the only ingredient to improving corporate social responsibility, it could be used as a proxy for assessing other issues as well as being important for equality.
The attendees were then given the opportunity to ask questions of the panel. Discussions included the power clients have to challenge investment managers to engage with investee companies on gender issues. There was an interesting question from the audience about whether social media helped or hindered progress by creating “trends” for social issues rather than helping to incite prolonged campaigns for change. Ita responded that, even though a specific hashtag may not grab headlines for long, the reputational damage they can cause shifts the norm. This means, going forward the parameters for meeting societal expectations on important issues changes.
Our event was rounded off with drinks, canapés and the opportunity to participate in a guided tour of the Victorian Gallery. Our tour guide picked a very apt section of the gallery to show guests. The paintings damaged by the suffragettes Annie Briggs, Evelyn Manesta and Lillian Forrester in their outrage have been restored and are on display in the splendour of the beautiful main building. A fitting end to a thought provoking evening.
Written by Kate Hewitt.