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FEATURE ARTICLE - September/October 2011

Mutual Funds Aimed at Empowering Women
(For more ways to invest in women's empowerment,
see our companion article here.)

Many socially responsible mutual funds screen for diversity and/or equal employment opportunity (EEO). In fact, in US SIF's Mutual Fund Performance Chart (the association for socially responsible investment professionals and institutions), there are 17 mutual fund companies that have funds that either seek investments with positive impacts in this area, or seek to avoid poor performers.

Some companies, however, are taking a more proactive approach. The companies listed below stand out as the mutual funds most directly involved in women’s empowerment. These remarks are intended to give readers an idea of each company’s special take on women’s diversity, but are not an exhaustive description of a company’s policies. Company Web sites and prospectuses offer additional information.

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CALVERT INVESTMENTS

Engaged in socially responsible investing (SRI) since 1982, Calvert has also been committed to promoting diversity and women’s empowerment for many years. Calvert’s Women's Principles, which define a global code of conduct on empowering women and date back to 2004, were used as the basis for the UN's Women's Empowerment Principles, which came out in March 2010. Calvert also developed model charter language on board diversity that companies can use to “formalize their commitment to an independent and inclusive board.”

Calvert advocates for women’s empowerment through actively voting its proxies, bringing shareholder resolutions and conducting dialogues with corporate leadership. In 2010, for example, Calvert filed 14 resolutions on diversity and women in the workplace, resulting in eight companies changing their board of directors selection criteria to include race and gender diversity, as noted in its 2010 Shareholder Advocacy Report.

For more information, visit http://www.calvert.com/sri-women.html.

 

DOMINI SOCIAL INVESTMENTS

Domini’s investment standards include a commitment to diversity in the workplace, which states in part, “ We therefore look for companies that have substantial representation of women and minorities among management-level positions, in particular among their senior line executives; companies that have created a notably open work environment for minority groups—for example, for gay and lesbian employees; and companies with strong programs for training on sexual harassment and respect for diversity. Conversely, we view with concern companies that have a record of diversity-related controversies and regulatory sanctions, including those related to sexual harassment and discrimination.”

Domini’s Proxy Voting Guidelines also state that the company will vote against boards of trustees that do not include women or people of color.

Domini’s commitment to diversity can be found here; Domini investment standards can be found here, and Domini Proxy Voting Guidelines are here.

 

NEUBERGER BERMAN

The “Social Investment Guidelines” for the NB Socially Responsive Fund include, in part, the following statement on diversity: “ The Fund strives to invest in companies that are leaders in promoting diversity in the workplace. Among other things, it will look for companies that: promote women and people of color into senior line positions; appoint women and people of color to their boards of directors; offer diversity training and support groups; purchase goods and services from women- and minority-owned firms; and have implemented innovative hiring, training, or other programs for women, people of color, and/or the disabled, or otherwise have a superior reputation in the area of diversity. The Fund attempts to avoid companies with recent discrimination lawsuits related to gender, race, disability, or sexual orientation….” It also notes, “While the Fund encourages companies to have diverse boards of directors and senior management, the absence of women and minorities in these positions does not warrant a company’s exclusion from the Fund.”

For more information, call 800/223-6448 or click: https://www.nb.com/

 

PARNASSUS

“For all our Parnassus Funds, we consider diversity, including minority and women’s representation at different levels in the company, and equal opportunity, which includes policies and practice towards employees from underrepresented groups, including women, racial minorities, GLBT, and religious groups,” says Nancy Reyes, director of advisor relations at Parnassus Investments. “We fully support attention that women in the workplace are getting in the U.S. and abroad in the press and proxy season. However, we also think that a wider lens on the issue of diversity is important to our research.”

In information on proxy-voting policies, Parnassus notes, “We will vote for resolutions to improve the representation of women and ethnic minorities in the workforce, particularly at the executive level. We will also vote for proposals to issue reports on a company’s efforts to increase diversity and to assure that all women and ethnic minorities are paid comparably with their counterparts.”

The Statement of Additional Information for Parnassus Funds dated May 1, 2010, is available here. For more information, go here.

 

PAX WORLD INVESTMENTS

Pax World has been a key player in promoting women’s empowerment and diversity through investing. Recently, Pax World published a paper on “Gender Equality as an Investment Concept,” by Joe Keefe, president & CEO of Pax World. In the report, Keefe writes about the “mounting evidence that gender diversity has positive financial consequences.”

In October of 2007, Pax World bought the Women’s Equity Fund, and later renamed it the Pax World Global Women’s Equality Fund (PXWEX). It is uniquely focused on investing in companies that are “global leaders in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.” In May of 2010, Pax World reconfigured and relaunched the fund, “making it more global and imposing higher standards,” according to the company. Pax World is also active in voting proxies, filing shareholder resolutions and conducting corporate dialogues to promote corporate diversity and women’s empowerment.

For more information, go here.

 

PRAXIS MUTUAL FUNDS

Praxis Mutual Funds (formerly MMA Praxis), managed by Everence Capital Management, don’t have a diversity screen per se. “But are we concerned about these issues? Yes,” says Mark Regier, director of stewardship investing at Everence Financial. Praxis reviews a company’s financial strengths as well as its ability to reflect certain core social values, such as “respecting the dignity and value of all people” and “demonstrating a concern for justice in a global society,” notes the mutual fund prospectus.

Regier adds that Praxis has taken on some challenges related to women’s empowerment in that it is pursuing shareholder actions against practices of modern slavery, including human trafficking. For example, last year Praxis participated in a shareholder dialogue with global hotel chain Wyndham Hotels to improve training and procedures to protect people from human trafficking on hotel grounds. Praxis was also involved in a shareholder dialogue that recently lead to Delta Air Lines becoming the first US airline to sign the tourism Code of Conduct, known as “The Code,” an initiative done in collaboration with ECPAT International that aims at protecting children (often girls) from sexual exploitation in travel and tourism.

For more information, click here.

 

WALDEN ASSET MANAGEMENT

Walden’s investment approach is to “work with clients to prioritize their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) concerns and to translate them into individually tailored investment guidelines.” Strengths Walden would look for in a company would include strong equal employment opportunity programs and policies, diverse representation in management and on boards of directors and “above-average employment policies encompassing benefits, work-life,” according to a summary of its screening procedures. At the same time, concerns would include a history of systemic discrimination, among other things. Walden is also active in shareholder engagement initiatives, including advocating for inclusive non-discrimination policies.

For more information on shareholder engagement, call 800/282-8782, x.7050, or click here:

http://www.waldenassetmgmt.com/social/action/library/SummResChart_Summ10.pdf http://www.waldenassetmgmt.com/social/action/library/WaldenSummer5.pdf http://www.waldenassetmgmt.com/social/action/library/resolutions08.pdf

Kristi Bahrenburg Janzen

 

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Article Summary


Invest in ways that support women's empowerment.


Studies show that companies that empower and advance women perform better financially.


You can find mutual funds with stand-out performance reviews on their work for women's empowerment.

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