Firm behind 'Fearless Girl' says Gulf companies could see gender parity windfall

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Wed 27 Feb 2019 05:54 AM

Firm behind 'Fearless Girl' says Gulf companies could see gender parity windfall

State Street Global advisors says companies stand to benefit financially if they increased female representation on their boards

The firm behind the statue of a young girl standing defiant in front of a raging bull in New York wants GCC companies to know that there is revenue potential waiting to be tapped if they were to aim for gender parity on their boards.

“Right now investable GCC companies average 30% in terms of gender parity on their boards. But if they aimed for 50%, they would be able to demonstrate much better financial results over the long-term,” said Ana Harris, global head of equity portfolio strategists at State Street Global Advisors (SSGA).

SSGA is one of the world’s largest asset managers with more than $2.7 trillion invested in funds it operates. The firm has pioneered a number of firsts, including the invention of the exchange traded fund, a security that tracks the movement of stock exchange index but is tradeable on the exchange similar to any common stock.

In 2017, the firm commissioned the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue as part of a campaign to promote its Gender Diversity Index Fund traded under the ticker SHE on the Nasdaq. The fund manages investments in companies that rank high in terms of board members that are female.

“We’re still a far way off from parity globally. The average in Europe is 49%, while in the Middle East is 30%,” said Harris.

With Saudi Arabia having been added to MSCI’s list of emerging markets, the region is set to see an increase in investor interest “from this summer”, according to Harris.

“We are large investment manager for clients in the region, global and glocal equities in the market. As part of our responsibility with that capital we make sure that their long term plans are aligned with interests of their shareholders. And from this summer, we and others will start seeing more visibility to industries in the region and will increase our investment in their industries,” she said.

"The outlook in the Middle East “is still positive,” insisted Harris. “What we took away from our study of the region is quite positive in terms of the public commitments to female participation and gender diversity in the workforce. The level of education in the female population is very high, and the government’s will is strong in terms of promoting greater participation in leadership roles,” she said.

Roughly $800bn, in latent value, 32% of GDP, could be tapped if gender parity on the boards of companies could be achieved, Harris cited a McKinsey study to say.

“The reason we raise this topic with boards and leadership is because it can have an impact. Not just the right thing to do but research shows that if you have a more diverse set of opinions and backgrounds at board level in discussions on strategy then you have better financial results over the long term,” she said.