Target 5.5*: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life.
In 2015, the United Nations SSE initiative, along with its partners, launched the annual event “Ring the Bell for Gender Equality” in line with International Women’s Day. These events are organized as a partnership by the Sustainable Stock Exchanges Initiative, together with the UN Global Compact, UN Women, the IFC, Women in ETFs and the World Federation of Exchanges to raise awareness about the opportunities for the private sector to advance gender equality and sustainable development. The key message being that gender equality is central to driving the global economy and the private sector has an important role to play.
The Ring the Bell event series serves to highlight the role of and opportunity for business. This will involve encouraging stakeholders to remove legal, social, and economic barriers that are restricting women’s economic empowerment. As part of the events, participants are encouraged to make commitments to improve gender equality in their markets, such as signing the Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs), improving diversity in senior management and on the board, developing more gender-friendly policies, developing a gender-themed investment product, or improving transparency on gender policies and practices. For a more extensive list of actions stock exchanges can take to advance gender equality, please download the SSE and GIZ report here, and the quick reference guide here.
How Stock Exchanges Can Advance Gender Equality
The UN Sustainable Stock Exchanges initiative launched a report with GIZ, which highlights how exchanges can and are advancing UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 on gender equality. It cites a number of imperative challenges:
- Women take home 1/10 of global income while accounting for 2/3 of global working hours;
- Girls and women have equal access to education in only 25 countries;
- 1/3 experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes;
- According to a 2016 review of 1,000 listed companies by Bloomberg LP, the average representation of women in the leadership was 23% in senior management; 21% on boards; 4% have a female chairperson; and 3% have a female CEO.
However, there is evidence of a business case:
- Female representation in leadership has shown to improve performance metrics such as ROA, ROE, and EPS while reducing volatility;
- Family leave can boost employee morale, reducing turnover and making it easier for businesses to retain skilled workers
- If better served, women-owned small businesses could add around $285 billion to the global economy
- The global economy could be up to $28 trillion larger in 2025 if gender gaps were eliminated.
Gender equality is a top priority of the international sustainability agenda. Businesses are also improving their practices, developing public-private partnerships, and investing resources to achieve gender equality and long-term financial value. While it is increasingly recognizing that advancing gender equality through business operations and value chains means better talent, higher productivity, more customers, and a stronger bottom line, progress remains slow. To achieve the UN SDGs, the private sector needs to continue to advance at a fast pace.
Pioneering Financial Products
Advancements in this space include the pioneering of new financial products aimed at supporting the empowerment of women and gender equality in corporate leadership. Some examples of these products include:
- Global Gender Equality UCITS ETF, investing in the Solactive Equileap Global Gender Equality 100 Leaders index.
- IIX Women’s livelihood Bond, listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange (SGX)
- The World Bank priced a C$1 billion sustainable development bond aimed at raising awareness around empowering women and girls on 9 January 2018. Source: Bloomberg.
- Bloomberg Gender Equality Index. Over 100 companies from ten sectors headquartered in 24 countries and regions joined the inaugural 2018 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GI). The reference index measures gender equality across internal company statistics, employee policies, external community support and engagement, and gender-conscious product offerings.
*Like many UN initiatives, the SSE looks to the SDGs to help focus its activities. The SDGs cover a broad range of environmental and social targets categorized into 17 goals and 169 targets. Of these, the SSE focuses on five SDG targets that are particularly relevant for stock exchanges.