And just like that, in a few years only, sustainable investing has become cool. The signs are all there, in plain sight. There are all the abbreviations like ESG, SDG, SRI or CSR, now smoothly rolling off everyone’s tongue. The race to launch new sustainable financial products and initiatives has begun in earnest. Then conferences and publications are abundant, of course (including this one). The sign above all other signs, however, in my humble opinion, are all the men in the room.
It seemed only yesterday, the quiet realm of sustainable investment was almost exclusively reserved for the ladies. You could guess an investment event must be about ESG just by the unusual gender mix of the participants. But then, in those days, the sustainability department was often neatly tucked away in an obscure corner of the office or conveniently bundled together with communications, or marketing perhaps. Any attempts to voice ethical or environmental concerns at an investment committee meeting were hardly acknowledged, save the occasional eye-rolling.
Did women actively claim the field of responsible investing as their own, once upon a time, or were they simply relegated to its presumed insignificance? Is there such a thing as a female investment style, leaning more towards the greater good, or are both sexes equally willing to leave the planet a better place while fulfilling their fiduciary duties?
I ponder these questions as I listen to a late-afternoon webinar with the title ‘ESG Matters: Global Trends and Transitions’, organised by CAiP, a Canadian pension fund forum. In less than an hour, Barbara Stewart, CFA and Aline Reichenberg Gustafsson, CFA, both of whom I happen to hold in high regard, manage to navigate a plethora of topics, ranging from women in investing to the subtleties of the Nordic ESG approach. The talk’s pace is fast, and if you blink, you might miss the smooth segue between the themes. While the recording of this event isn’t available, the speakers summarized their conversation in a blog post for the CFA Institute.
A few images linger on after their presentation. One is the creative description of the remarkable transformation that women in sustainable investment have gone through, from Invisible Woman to Wonder Woman, provided by Reichenberg Gustafsson. Whether willingly choosing to join the ranks of ESG warriors or being assigned to the task, women have by now conquered the field and are perfectly placed to wave their magic wands of expertise.
The second image I’m left with is an illustration of a concept that Barbara Stewart introduces as ‘the female asset mix’. Apart from traditional asset classes like stocks, bonds or cash, a female portfolio, according to her research, tends to hold aspirational assets, including ‘own business’, ‘save the world’ and ‘legacy’. Maybe women do have a predisposition for sustainability? Or, at the very least, a more holistic view of investing for the future.
Men, however, are more than welcome to the cool club of sustainable investing. Come to think of it; it is not as exclusive as Clubhouse, no invitation needed.
Picture © NordSIP