Gail Kelly heads Australia’s largest financial company, Westpac. The 58-year-old banker is boss of 37,000 employees, but a rarity in a business world dominated by men.
Even in developed national economies, women are underrepresented in top positions. Among Germany’s 200 leading businesses, only about 15 percent of positions on company boards are held by women.
Many studies find that businesses do better with women in the highest levels of management, especially since the worst of the financial crisis in 2008.
The outlook for women is even worse at the top of leading firms. There are only 10 women on management boards of 30 companies on Germany’s DAX stock index. The German Institute for Economic Research recently reported that among 183 members on those management boards, the share of women has dropped since 2013 from 6.3 to 5.5 percent.
But does having women in top positions make a difference for companies and their stock prices? That’s what investors are most concerned with, apart from the problem of unequal treatment. Many studies find that businesses do better with women in the highest levels of management, especially since the worst of the financial crisis in 2008. The stock prices of firms with women in top management often increased more in that time than for companies led exclusively by men. And this is true worldwide.
Now there are investment products that seek to profit from the success of women-led enterprises. For three years, the Swiss bank Vontobel has offered such an investment. So far the trend hasn’t spread to Germany but is picking up elsewhere in the world.
In the United States, former bank executive Sallie Krawcheck earlier this year set up the first U.S. stock index fund that invests in companies based on how many women occupy top positions.
Ms. Krawcheck – who was twice included by Forbes magazine among the world’s ten most powerful women – left Charlotte-based Bank of America in a 2011 management shakeup. She first bought a women’s networking organization, 85 Broads, and is now teaming with Pax World Management to offer the new fund. Her new organization, Ellevate, proclaims on its website that this is “the only mutual fund in the United States that focuses on investing… in advancing women’s leadership.”
Last week, the British multinational banking firm Barclays also announced a new fund that targets woman power in the U.S. economy. It invests in an index of 85 U.S. companies led by women.
“We are responding to a growing trend and want to make it possible to invest diversely among stocks traded on the exchange,” said Sue Meirs, chief operating officer for equity and funds structured-market sales at Barclays.
The problem for private German investors: Neither the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s ETF nor Barclay’s Women in Leadership ETN is intended to be offered on European exchanges.
That leaves Europeans who want to invest in woman power only with a niche product from Vontobel – WKN: VT1333. In its Top Executive Women certificate, the Swiss bank regularly adjusts stocks and charges a yearly administrative fee of 1.6 percent. In order to be included, firms must have a woman in top management and market capitalization of at least one billion Swiss francs (€823 million or $1.1 billion).
At the time, 12 diverse international stocks are represented in the selection. In addition to the Australian Westpac Banking Corp., for example, there is also Imperial Tobacco – the only large tobacco company led by a woman. The 48-year-old Alison Cooper has been managing the British-based multinational cigarette producer since 2010. Also included are Singapore Telecommunications, one of the leading telecommunications firms in Asia, and the U.S. media enterprise Gannett Co., whose holdings include various newspapers and television broadcasters.
Since being issued in July 2011, Vontobel’s Top Executive Women certificate has increased in value by about a third. But investors aren’t completely satisfied. Up to now, the investment certificate has not consistently outperformed the MSCI World Index. This year, for instance, the fund that bets on woman power hobbled behind the global stock market measure by as much as 8 percent.
Georgios Kokologiannis is a finance editor at Handelsblatt. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.