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Why gender lens investing can be good for the world—and your portfolio

The movement toward greater gender equality is creating benefits at every level of society. And investors are taking note.

Woman looking at a cityscape

THE PERSISTENT ISSUE OF GENDER INEQUALITY makes headlines on an almost daily basis. From all-male boardrooms to the lack of gender parity in secondary education, the inequalities that women face are motivating investors to seek positive change while continuing to pursue their investment goals. They’re doing so by incorporating gender factors into their overall investment approach, often called gender lens investing (GLI). GLI is a way to leverage the market to support progress toward gender equality—in the workplace, the supply chain, the consumer market and elsewhere—by giving companies a financial and ethical incentive to hire and promote with equality in mind. And simultaneously, it’s a way to identify areas of opportunity in the search for potential investment returns, sustainable growth and lower risk.

Investors and companies are responding 

“We’re hearing more about gender lens investing today because there is a growing interest among consumers and investors in supporting gender equality as a fundamental human right,” says Jackie VanderBrug, head of Sustainable and Impact Investment Strategy in the Chief Investment Office (CIO) for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank. This support is reflected in increasing calls for equal pay for women, more diversity on boards and in upper management, the production of consumer products beneficial to women, and other areas. Consider the following:

  • Research company McKinsey estimates that achieving global gender parity could boost global gross domestic product (GDP) by $12–28 trillion. 1This research indicates a growing trend.
  • According to research firm Deloitte, the best emerging talent wants to work for companies that value diversity and have a forward-thinking mindset. 2
  • Research suggests that while performance results have varied over time, many companies with higher scores on board diversity and management diversity saw consistently higher future return on equities (ROEs) than counterparts with lower scores. 3

Gender diversity can yield many benefits 

Equally important, research indicates that a company’s gender diversity can be a fairly reliable indicator—along with traditional metrics such as return on equity and debt-free cash flow—of its potential for investment outperformance relative to the broader market. A study from MSCI ESG Research suggests that outperformance may derive, for example, from better decision-making by a more diverse group of directors—including those with a greater representation of women. 4 Outperformance may also be tied to greater gender diversity among senior leadership and the rest of the workforce, which may in turn be correlated with reduced turnover and higher employee engagement.

Education, Employment & Entrepreneurship

Higher education is considered a gateway to advancement in the workplace, and while there is still a long way to go to reach gender parity, especially in secondary education, in the United States women are in the majority at all levels of higher education, attaining 5


of bachelor’s degrees


of master’s degrees


of doctoral degrees

The underrepresentation of women in business, particularly in the upper levels of management, points to a notable waste of talent. However, we have seen progress as women make up 47% of total workforce and 52% of management, professional and related occupations. 6 As organizations do a better job of incorporating women’s skills, they stand to benefit from it on the financial bottom line.  

Entrepreneurship is, by almost any measure, the backbone of the U.S. economy, and women have seen incredible progress. Over 42% of total U.S. businesses are now owned by women, with 1,817 women-owned businesses launched daily, on average. 7 However, entrepreneurship is an area with persistent gaps and opportunities—less than 3% of global venture capital dollars are granted to female founders. 8

We’re hearing more about gender lens investing today because there is a growing interest among consumers and investors in supporting gender equality as a fundamental human right.”

Jackie VanderBrug, Head of Sustainable and Impact Investment Strategy in the Chief Investment Office (CIO) for Merrill and Bank of America Private Bank.

“While the advantages of women in the boardroom and executive suite are reasonably well documented, the benefit of adding women extends across an entire company or organization, from every level of the workforce and all the way down the supply chain.” VanderBrug says.

The future of gender lens investing

Going forward, the quality and quantity of gender-related data and research should continue to expand, making investment decisions in gender-related issues more available. The use of gender data promised advances in fields from life sciences to software, with innovations standing to benefit not just women but all consumers. Opportunity can also be found in investing in products that address global issues disproportionately affecting women, such as maternal mortality, personal safety and human trafficking.

The bottom line is this: Investing with a gender lens can help expand the companies that can significantly improve the lives of women and girls. It’s likely that this type of progress will continue. No matter the political environment, the issue of gender is sure to grow in importance—in the workforce, in the home and around the globe.

For more insights on how you can make a difference through gender lens investing, read “Gender Lens Investing: What It Is and Why It’s Important” from our Chief Investment Office.

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