Addressing Gender Diversity in Impact Investing

All through March, I watched with interest as nearly every media platform produced images, quotes and stories of women innovators and groundbreakers in honor of Women’s History Month. From scientists and politicians to social advocates and financiers, women have done it all.

That said, significant gender gaps still persist globally in education, health and well-being, politics, the workforce and finance. Worldwide, only 49% of women participate in the workforce, compared with 75% of men.1 Just 1-in-4 national parliament seats are held by women,2 and in 18 countries husbands can legally prevent their wives from working.3 In 2018, women made up less than 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.4

As an impact investor, I believe (and research from Morgan Stanley has found), that a diversity of perspectives can create greater economic value for companies and for investors. The good news: Investors who want to use their financial resources as a tool to drive social change and greater gender equality have greater opportunities today, both in number and sophistication. According to Bloomberg, at least eight mutual funds and exchange-traded funds focusing on gender were created in 2018.5 Morgan Stanley Wealth Management’s Investing With Impact Platform, which includes more than 120 investment strategies, now provides access to six gender-focused strategies. Furthermore, 45 strategies on our platform have broader environmental and social mandates that incorporate gender-related criteria when making an investment decision.

Looking to add gender themes to your own portfolio? Here are three approaches to consider:

  • Avoid gender-diversity laggards: Investors can screen out companies with poor records for gender diversity. With this approach, investors are mainly avoiding the risk of investing in companies that could face reputational risk, or that may have poor talent retention and productivity practices.

  • Seek out gender-diversity leaders: Investors can focus on firms that lead in promoting gender diversity at the board and senior management level, as well as firms with strong programs to support women in the workplace. The share of global companies reporting on their percentage of women employees grew to nearly 50% in 2017, up from 27% in 2010, according to data from Bloomberg.6 These firms may be better-positioned for productivity, decision-making and innovation. Plus, they may have better customer acquisition and retention records, as well as improved talent retention and recruitment. Those factors can all lead to long-term financial outperformance.

  • Invest in companies that seek to elevate women and girls: “Gender-lens investing,” a term that was coined in 2009, seeks companies that not only embrace female representation at all levels in the workplace, but also offer products and services aimed at improving the lives of women and girls, especially those who are marginalized because they are poor, uneducated, live in rural areas or are single mothers. Investors can aim for more direct impact on the causes they care about by choosing this approach across public and private markets for both equity and debt investments.

No matter your approach, recognize that gender-focused investing can be an important part of a portfolio that meets your financial goals and risk tolerance, while also integrating diversity objectives.

This article was derived from “The Gender Advantage,” an investing primer from Morgan Stanley’s Impact Investing team. Please contact your Financial Advisor for a copy or click here to find an advisor.

1Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce—Global (October 31, 2018).

2The World Bank, Inter-Parliamentary Union (

3The World Bank, “Changing the laws that keep women out of work,” March 29, 2018,

4Fortune, “The Share of Female CEOs in the Fortune 500 Dropped by 25% in 2018 (May 21, 2018).

5Bloomberg Professional Services, “Unlocking gender diversity’s value,” October 18, 2018.

6Source: Bloomberg, as of Feb. 15, 2019


Risk Considerations

Equity securities may fluctuate in response to news on companies, industries, market conditions and general economic environment.

Bonds are subject to interest rate risk. When interest rates rise, bond prices fall; generally the longer a bond's maturity, the more sensitive it is to this risk. Bonds may also be subject to call risk, which is the risk that the issuer will redeem the debt at its option, fully or partially, before the scheduled maturity date. The market value of debt instruments may fluctuate, and proceeds from sales prior to maturity may be more or less than the amount originally invested or the maturity value due to changes in market conditions or changes in the credit quality of the issuer. Bonds are subject to the credit risk of the issuer. This is the risk that the issuer might be unable to make interest and/or principal payments on a timely basis. Bonds are also subject to reinvestment risk, which is the risk that principal and/or interest payments from a given investment may be reinvested at a lower interest rate.

Asset allocation and diversification do not assure a profit or protect against loss in declining financial markets.

Rebalancing does not protect against a loss in declining financial markets.  There may be a potential tax implication with a rebalancing strategy.  Investors should consult with their tax advisor before implementing such a strategy.

Because of their narrow focus, sector investments tend to be more volatile than investments that diversify across many sectors and companies.  Technology stocks may be especially volatile.

International investing entails greater risk, as well as greater potential rewards compared to U.S. investing. These risks include political and economic uncertainties of foreign countries as well as the risk of currency fluctuations. These risks are magnified in countries with emerging markets, since these countries may have relatively unstable governments and less established markets and economies.

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