Athena Capital Releases White Paper On Investing In Gender Equality

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January 2018 – Athena Capital Advisors, a privately owned, independent registered investment advisor serving high net worth private clients, foundations and endowments, has released a white paper on investing to achieve gender equality. The paper offers a practitioner’s perspective on gender lens investing and the construction of gender inclusive investment portfolios.

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Titled, “Investing in Gender Equality,” the paper was authored by members of Athena Capital’s Impact Investing team, including Lisette Cooper, the firm’s founder and chief investment officer; Kate Huntington, Managing Director, Research; and Jeff Finkelman, Research Associate, Impact Investments.

“As a female-founded firm, we are often called upon to share our insights on gender lens investing. A growing number of investors are asking how they can allocate capital in ways that have a meaningful impact on gender inequality,” said Cooper. “This white paper compiles our best research on the topic of investing in gender equality and draws directly from our experience working with clients who share this priority and are building portfolios with a gender lens while also seeking market-rate returns.”

The white paper explores the basic methods of integrating gender into financial analysis and examines various types of gender investment strategies currently available in the market. Athena Capital provides guidance on how these practices come together in the context of building an investment portfolio. The paper also includes a case study based on a current client of the firm who is committed to using her portfolio to expand opportunities for women in finance and the broader economy.

“Achieving gender equality is not only a moral obligation, as reognized by the United Nations, but it also represents a business and investment opportunity,” said Cooper. “Gender inclusive strategies and portfolios aim to empower women by advancing workplace equity, creating new services and products, and increasing access to capital.”

Defining the Field: Gender Lens and Gender Inclusive Investing

Investors have developed different words to describe the practice of integrating gender into their investments. Gender is a word that refers to a socially, as well as a biologically-constructed identity. There are male and female genders in every society and the National Organization of Women supports the acronym LGBTQIA (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersexual Asexual) as the most inclusive language for people with non-mainstream gender and sexual identity.6 While there are explicit issues that face people with non-mainstream gender identities, gender lens investing is typically associated with efforts to combat bias against women and promote both gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Gender lens investing refers to the process of blending gender analysis with financial analysis as part of the investment decision-making process.7 Before deploying capital, gender lens investors make sure to evaluate the gender-related attributes of an investment alongside its financial characteristics. These changes in process are key to avoiding the influence of unconscious biases.

Just as lenses in a telescope can allow us to see galaxies light ears away, a gender lens can be used to see, more clearly, a distant vision of a more gender inclusive society. Gender inclusive strategies are designed around theories of change, or action and outcome relationships, that target gender issues. Gender inclusive investment strategies and portfolios may seek to empower women by increasing their access to capital, facilitating workplace equity, or by creating new services and products designed to meet the distinct needs of women.8 These investment strategies seek to actively drive change and then measure the impact of these efforts against stated social goals.

The Call to Action

Throughout history and across the globe, gender has been a key determinant in the distribution of social and economic opportunity. Women comprise 50% of the global population, but have far less representation in many key cross-sections of society. The statistics can be alarming:

- In the United States, women who worked year-round in 2016 earned an average of 80 cents for every dollar men earned. The pay gap has improved since 1960, when women earned just 60 cents on the dollar, but unless the pace of progress accelerates, pay parity will not be reached until 2059.9

- Estimates from the World Economic Forum and the Food and Agriculture Organization suggest that while women are responsible for producing the majority of the world’s food, they only own between 10% and 20% of the land.10

- Some women are subject to such oppressive gender regimes that they are forced into marriage or even slavery. Of the 40 million people who were victims of modern slavery in 2016, 71% were either women or girls, many of whom were forced laborers in the commercial sex industry.11

Over the past 40 years, the world has gradually awakened to the social, economic, and moral consequences of gender inequality. The United Nations (UN), in particular, has been a leading proponent of women’s rights, galvanizing businesses, governments, and individual citizens into action. In 2015, the UN recognized the importance of gender equality by making it one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 5 commits the world to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” by “providing women and girls with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political
and economic decision-making processes [that] will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.”12

Perhaps most significantly, the UN recognized that the pursuit of gender equality is also a “pre-condition” for the achievement of the 16 other SDGs.13 The success of global development efforts depends on women being fully engaged, which means they must be given the opportunity to reach their full potential. A key source of optimism is the fact that achieving gender equality is not only a moral obligation, but also represents a massive business and investment opportunity.

The Business Case

Several of the world’s leading business and financial institutions have published studies in the past several years highlighting the potential economic returns available from greater gender equality. The McKinsey Global Institute, a division of one of the world’s leading consulting firms, forecasted that reaching global gender parity would add as much as $28 trillion annually to the global GDP by 2025.14 Goldman Sachs, a leading global investment bank, has called investing in women and girls “one of the highest return opportunities available in the developing world.”15 The bank describes a virtuous cycle in which investments in education result in increased participation in the labor force. This then translates into a “double dividend” as a higher proportion of women’s earnings, versus those of their male counterparts, is more likely to go toward improving their family’s welfare, which then empowers the next generation.16

Opportunities also exist in the world of finance. Gender diversity initiatives have been shown to improve corporate performance. In a 2011 report, the non-profit Catalyst found that companies with “sustained high representation of [women board directors],” which they defined as three or more women serving for at least four of five years, generated returns on equity that were nearly 5 percentage points higher than companies with no women on their boards.17 This is some of the most compelling research in support of the benefits of gender inclusion.

Reporting on the hedge fund industry, the Financial Times published an article in March 2017 noting that while “hedge funds run by women have outperformed a broader benchmark of alternative investment managers over the past five years,” only one in twenty hedge funds employ a female portfolio manager.18 The data might suggest women are better fund managers than men, but
it also appears they face higher hurdles when raising capital. As a result, only the best female managers survive in the industry long enough to make it into the data.19 Researchers at Northeastern University confirmed these results in a 2015 study of hedge fund returns from 1994 to 2013.20 It may be surprising to some, but female hedge fund managers are indeed just as competitive as male hedge fund managers.

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Athena Capital Advisors is a privately owned registered investment advisor founded in 1993 by Dr. Lisette Cooper. The firm has approximately $5.5 billion in assets under management as of December 31, 2016, with offices in Lincoln, MA; New York City, NY; and San Francisco, CA. Athena offers clients investment advice and management as their external chief investment officer, as well as wealth planning, impact investing, and investment administration and reporting services. Its clients include both tax-exempt institutions and taxable families. Athena uses a research-driven approach to strategic and tactical asset allocation to provide solutions that are customized to each client’s particular circumstances and objectives. For additional information on Athena Capital Advisors, please visit

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