Shining a Light on the Market Potential of Gender Equality

We recently spoke with Heidi DuBois, Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Finance at BNY Mellon, who spearheaded a collaborative report between BNY Mellon and the United Nations Foundation titled “Return on Equality: Investment Opportunities to Close the Global Gender Gap.” The report, which was launched at the World Economic Forum earlier this year, explores the market potential of advancing gender equality and advocates for the expansion of gender-lens investing to encompass a products and services approach. Check out the report here.

Heidi is the Global Head of BNY Mellon’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Social Investing function, where she is responsible for sustaining and expanding BNY Mellon’s leading reputation in CSR by advancing a deep understanding of the quickly evolving CSR field.

Q: What was the impetus for this report?

One of my main goals as BNY Mellon’s Global Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Investing is to highlight how impact investment strategies can both address critical social issues and deliver returns for investors. As a firm, we’re committed to helping advance the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and we were delighted to partner with the UN Foundation in addressing the UN’s fifth Sustainable Development Goal: “achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls.” The objective of our research is to highlight the market potential and financial returns that can be unlocked by advancing and accelerating gender parity.

Q: The report explores the growing number of opportunities in “gender-lens” investing. How do these investments advance global gender equality?

Broadly, gender-lens investments are private investments made for financial return that simultaneously support gender equality goals. To date, gender-lens investments have been predominantly made in women-led businesses and in companies that promote gender diversity in their workplaces. However, through this report we wanted to shed light on another less common type of gender-lens investing that has the potential to drastically improve the well-being of women and girls across the globe: investing in companies that advance gender equality through their product and service offerings.

Q: Why was this particular type of gender-lens investment a main focus of the report?

In addition to making a tangible difference in the lives of women and girls, investments that make access to vital services more equitable can provide a substantial profit opportunity for investors. In fact, our report found that achieving parity across products and services in just five sectors—water, contraception, telecommunications, energy, and child care—could unlock a market of approximately US $300 billion in incremental annual spending by 2025.

Q: Can you share examples of companies that are narrowing the global gender gap through their product and service offerings?

A Qatari telecom company, Ooredoo, is expanding ownership of mobile phones among women with targeted distribution strategies and women-focused apps, enabling women to leverage technology to access financial advice and employment opportunities. Investments in clean water access have also proven to be incredibly impactful. In parts of the developing world where women have historically spent hours of their day collecting water, investments in irrigation and water infrastructure give time back to women to pursue education and employment opportunities; this in turn strengthens their local economies. Spring Health, an Indian company, aims to achieve this through the development of an innovative point-of-sale purification and distribution model to sell affordable drinking water to low-income families.

Q: You’ve mentioned that narrowing the gender gap is a major focus for you personally and for BNY Mellon. How does BNY Mellon foster a gender inclusive workplace?

Across BNY Mellon, we view diversity and inclusion as critical business imperatives. Diverse teams breed the kinds of diverse perspectives and collaborative problem-solving necessary to drive innovation and best serve our clients across the globe. Our company-wide Women’s Initiatives Network (WIN) supports the advancement of women at BNY Mellon through various channels and opportunities for professional development, leadership, enhanced visibility, and greater connectivity with other employees and clients. We also have a very active Women in Technology group, which works to empower female technologists both within BNY Mellon and across the industry. We’re proud to have received recognition for our commitment to gender inclusion, including Bloomberg’s 2017 Financial Services Gender-Equality Index and the Anita Borg Institute’s Top Company for Women in Technology in 2015.

Q. If there is one thing readers should take away from the report, what would it be?

This is as much an economic issue as a social one. Unlocking $12 trillion in global growth will not only help compound economic advancement among the very women and girls these investments aim to benefit, but it will also have the potential to stimulate global economies and deliver substantial benefits for investors. Achieving gender equality needs to be at the top of the business agenda. Identifying and seizing opportunities to invest in products and services that are ensuring a better future for women across the globe is the foundation for investors looking to earn a real return on equality.