Breaking the Bias and Investing in Diversity

 

 

 

Guest Blog By Helen Winch*

As Premier Miton’s Head of Responsible Investing, my experience is in sustainable and responsible investing. However, as we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD), I see the two themes as very much interlinked. In both areas we can celebrate the achievements to date, yet there is still much more we can all do.

This year’s theme for IWD is #BreaktheBias; including creating a world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. At Premier Miton, we are celebrating the small role we have played in improving diversity in three key areas: investment decisions, engagement and our governance.

Investment Decisions

In a recent report published by the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), a Business Minister noted that “evidence shows that more diverse businesses are more successful businesses and the case is too strong to ignore”. Research has found that having diversity at the top can improve companies’ profitability, a point that the financial industry is keen to embrace, and companies are already looking to improve diversity in their boardrooms.

As an investor, one of the metrics we look for in companies is female representation in the boardroom and there is some progress. For example, recently we have seen the number of companies that we hold in the Premier Miton Responsible UK Equity Fund that have female leaders increase. We applaud companies with more diversity as:

  • Diverse boards can provide better oversight of the business.
  • Diverse executive committees are less prone to group think and, given that on average 50% of customers are female, they are better able to ensure that any business can equally appeal to all customers.
  • More diversity can promote a better work culture and improve performance.

We particularly like investing in companies with female chairs, chief executive officers or chief financial officers, due to the diversity of thought in decision making that this can bring.

Engagement

Engagement is one of the important tools at our disposal to encourage a shift in the way companies think and behave, in particular when encouraging better diversity at C-suite level. Premier Miton wrote to nineteen companies held in the  our European Sustainable Leaders Fund on the subject of diversity in the executive committee and on the need to do more than simply placing one female non-executive on the board.

In discussions with portfolio companies, management are receptive and understand the need for change, however companies find the complexity of doing this a challenge as they do not see it as an easy or quick fix. Feedback from companies is that credible change involves work on diversity across the entire firm, from graduate recruitment to maternity leave, to returning to work from maternity through to executive representation.

We want to invest in companies that have balanced boards and strong diversity and inclusion values throughout their businesses. However, we are also aware that these changes will take time. As long term investors, our intention is to work with our companies along their diversity and inclusion journey.

Breaking the Bias

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to put the #BreakTheBias agenda firmly to the forefront, to create a gender equal world that is diverse, equitable and inclusive.

An example of the power of diversity comes from a report from BoardReady that looked at companies from the high carbon sectors and found that more diverse boards act with greater speed and substance to combat climate change.

The report found that companies with more gender diverse boards are:

  • Performing significantly better in 8 out of 9 climate action indicators.
  • Twice as likely to develop a decarbonisation strategy.
  • 25% more likely to have medium and long-term greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
  • Significantly more likely to allocate future capital aligned to these targets.

The discussions we have had on gender diversity with our investee companies have been infinitely more insightful than the evaluation of ESG data points, such as the percentage of women on boards.

Larger companies are fully aware of the diversity issue, and their legal obligations, and will improve their gender diversity as they refresh their boards. In addition, those that are acting and engaging on the topic can expect to see long term support from us as investors. Where we see companies resisting changes to their all male boards, they should expect votes against proposals including chair reappointments at annual meetings.

Our Board

My final point is a more reflective point; the Premier Miton Group plc eight person board includes three female, non-executive directors who introduce diversity of thought and all the benefits that this brings. Additionally, one of our female directors has experience from outside the fund management industry which we believe will bring even greater diversity of skills, views and experience.

In Summary

The facts and reports are in agreement and cannot be ignored; diversity within the boardroom and across all parts of business are vital for the future success and strength of a business and its workforce. By tackling the challenges and barriers to diversity and inclusion in our work environment, we inevitably champion the calls for equality on International Women’s Day and greater gender diversity within our investee companies.

* Helene Winch is responsible for overseeing Premier Miton’s overall responsible investing strategy and development. Helene has over twenty years of investment industry experience, including considerable experience in responsible investing, co-ordinating the integration of ESG into investment processes, as well as working as an investment manager. Helene holds an MSc in Mathematics & Finance from Imperial College, London. Helene also holds the CFA certificate of ESG Investing and is on the IA Sustainable and Responsible investment committee.

Three common biases women encounter at work

A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the dad.  The son is rushed to the hospital; just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says:   “I can’t operate—that boy is my son!” How is this possible?

If you haven’t figured out that the surgeon is the boy’s mother, then I made my point: unconscious bias is everywhere – whether you’re a man or a woman!  But don’t kick yourself for it – you’re hardly alone.

As we’re approaching IWD, I want to share some of the most common biases women encounter at work.  Let me know if any of these sound familiar:

  1. All she needs is more confidence.

Call it confidence, call it Gravitas, or any other strong, extroverted, Presence-based characteristic.  The lack of these attributes often stop women from progressing.    The more heavily-influenced a company (or part of it) is by male presence, the more likely it is for women to be considered less capable if they don’t command a room or a meeting.

This is of course a fallacy.  In many cases, women appear less confident only in scenarios when they are the minority, i.e. in male-dominated groups.  We all feel a level of discomfort (even if we rarely acknowledge it) operating in an environment that is less familiar.  Many men admit to this feeling when they enter a room full of women – or find themselves at the school gate with a group of mums.  All of a sudden, our confidence appears to ebb.

But competence doesn’t.  A competent person remains competent in both scenarios, even if it may not seem that way.  In fact, rarely are competence and confidence correlated.  And if we believe this, then why do we pay so much attention to a person’s confidence?

In other words, she doesn’t need more confidence; she needs more acceptance and appreciation of her competence.

  1. We always hire the best candidate, regardless of background

If only that were the case!  We want to believe that’s what we do but the data shows otherwise.  It shows that we’re slaves to our unconscious affinity – or ingroup – bias.

We may not be aware of it, but a person who is more like us will come across more capable, credible, trustworthy and likeable than a person who isn’t.  We actively solicit, pay attention to and favour the contributions of ‘ingroup’ members.  This also means that we are much more likely to overlook, overhear or disregard the strengths of a person who is different from us.

When that happens, we also do this: we justify to ourselves why the person we really like is also more capable, and therefore, the better candidate.

Yes, we all do this.

Truth be told, there is no such thing as true meritocracy.  All our decisions have a strong influence of bias – in this example, affinity  (or ingroup) bias.

So next time you prefer one candidate to another, and that preferred candidate happens to be more like you than the other, put your preference to the test:  scrutinise it like someone who is advocating for greater diversity.  Is the ingroup candidate really the better candidate or might your view be influenced by something other than objective criteria?

  1. ‘Great work, Rachel!’   ‘Thanks, but I’m Susan.’

It is both astonishing and embarrassing to reflect on the number of times women have told me how their names are mixed up with other women.

Think about it:  there are 2 women in a meeting of 8 and the men struggle to keep them apart.  What does it say about the value they assign to these women?  How much regard do they hold for them?  If they cannot remember who  is who, how likely are these women to be taken seriously?

Of course, this isn’t a malicious thing.  We know that.  But, gentlemen, next time you confuse two women, think about what this means and how you think of them at work.  Think also about the last time you confused two men who are like you.  Surprised you can’t think of an incident like that?

Ladies, if this happens to you, I encourage you to (politely) correct the situation.  That ought to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

As we go into a day/week/month of celebrating the many wonderful women around us, let’s remember these commonly-perpetrated microaggressions, let’s identify them, talk about them, and find ways to challenge them.  We do this not only to respect our fellow female colleagues, but to improve everyone’s wellbeing and performance at work.  And isn’t that a worthwhile endeavour? #ChooseToChallenge

If you liked this post, you might also like In the Wake of IWD – What are we really saying?

In the wake of IWD2016 – what are we really saying?

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Last week’s international woman’s day seems to have been the most popular we’ve had in a long time. Every company, organisation and network seems to have put on a celebration or event to mark the occasion.  Much has been written about it and pledges have been undertaken to change the balance between men and women at work and in the economy.

But what strikes me most of all is how much talk there is about women being the solution for the upcoming future. By this I mean that there is much research and insight to point to the fact that organisations that don’t take gender balance seriously are said to be walking on thin ice; organisations that are refusing to change will see others who will be prepared for the future pass them by.  In other words, it is no longer the right thing to do or the nice thing to do for your business; ensuring that teams work on inclusive insights and that our leaders either possess many feminine leadership traits or are indeed women with those traits now appears to be a strategic priority.

Much is written directly about the influence and the impact of feminine leadership on business in the future.  Take for example John Gerzema’s and Michael D’Antonio book “The Athena Doctrine”, which is based on research and surveys of 64,000 individuals.  Published in 2013, the authors show that innovation and creativity can only be driven if one embraces feminine traits and values.  Having tried hard to resist talking in terms of gender, John and Michael succumbed to the overwhelming evidence that makes a strong case in favour of gender balance.  The book makes it clear that the different way men and women think and behave (in general) cannot be disregarded and that society’s values are changing to reflect those that are traditionally female.  John and Michael talk about a new operating system that includes as many feminine traits as it does masculine.

Much is also written about the leadership styles of the future that – although not directly referencing feminine traits, talks about them as central to the success of any future business.  Take for example the fact that millennials today don’t want to work for companies the sole mission of which is to increase shareholder returns.  They care about the world as much as they do about their jobs. They no longer want to perform a task that contributes only to lining their own pockets.  They care about legacy; they care about the environment; they care about social solutions to existing problems, all of which requires a different type of thinking. So what we read and hear about is how to work in teams and collaborate; how big decisions should bubble up from the surface rather than being pushed down from the top; we read about motivating and encouraging each other to perform the best we can and about valuing the differences that we each bring as individuals in the name of creativity and innovation.  Name them as such or not, these are the so-called ‘feminine’ traits:  collaboration, motivation, valuing others’ point of view, supporting each other and nurturing – these are the things that women tend to do more naturally than men.  And now it seems that these behaviours are becoming a central point of a successful business; they are no longer the ‘nice to have’s’ for a pleasant working culture; they are the central machination of a successful working team.  A company that embraces these traits and values is more likely to succeed in the future than one that doesn’t.

But it is not just the survival of a business that makes this new operating system so relevant.  This operating system also allows companies to utilise these attitudes as a competitive advantage.  Creativity, innovation and diversity of thought are the cornerstones of ideas that lead to the discovery of new markets, the design of new products and the launch of new services.  This new operating system allows companies to experience the world in a way that their customers might do and they might not.  Once we learn to experience our surroundings from the point of view of another we start seeing things and solutions that weren’t apparent before.  This new mindset that opens our eyes to things we haven’t seen before is what’s going to make the difference between the company that survives and the company that thrives.

I have always believed in gender diversity – in its very basic form – diversity of thought and the value of the individual as a strategic priority for any business.  It now seems that those who share my views are becoming more outspoken.  If you are a business that wants to see itself thrive in the future then I suggest you start listening to those outspoken voices.

Rina Goldenberg Lynch

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