Two leading investors in Asia have highlighted the importance of improving data on the social impact of investing, as consultants in the region point to gaps around diversity, equality and inclusion (DE&I).
“Some social data is thin on the ground in some areas and can be very subjective,” said Fiona Mann, head of listed equities and ESG at Brighter Super, the $31 billion Australian superannuation fund.
She said that the fund had increased its scrutiny of the fund’s own supply chain and its investment managers, as well as the companies it and its fund managers invested in, for modern slavery practices.
“Modern slavery reporting is something that we have worked on hard to improve over the last year,” she said.
Where companies have extensive networks and large distributed workforces, identifying modern slavery is particularly challenging, she noted.
“At a very basic level, it’s hard to put my hand on my heart and say that we can be certain that [modern slavery] is not present in a specific Walmart store in Texas, which may be several layers down our investment or supply chain,” she said. “But we rely on our managers and their investee companies to be as diligent as we are in this exercise.”
Brighter Super is reviewing the DE&I policies of all of the managers it employs. “We hope to have the process completed for our equity managers by the middle of the year; eventually it will be complete for managers in all asset classes,” Mann said.
Ada Chan, consultant at JANA in Sydney, said that while DE&I reporting among Australian asset owners and the managers they employed was good for female representation, transparency was poor when it came to other elements of DE&I.
“An information gap remains in measuring equity and inclusion across all diversity characteristics,” she said.
While transparency was improving across other identity characteristics such as non-binary gender identification and ethnicity, there would never be perfect information as companies, rightly, cannot compel this data from employees, she noted.
Other measures, she added, may not have been identified as worthy of collection. “An example is [data on] the level of uptake of carers’ leave or flexible working arrangements across age, ethnicity, and gender identification,” she said.
NARROWING THE GAP
Gaps around DE&I endure despite growing emphasis on the topic by Singaporean sovereign fund GIC.
In a January report published online, Asia’s largest investor emphasised the need for improved data around DE&I.
“You must first measure to manage,” the report noted. “Diversity, equity, and inclusion must be integrated and measured across all aspects of decision-making by companies and governments.”
“Long-term value is tied to robust DE&I practices, and DE&I enables enhanced employee engagement, better brand perception, and increased innovation,” said the report. GIC has 1,900 employees across 46 nationalities and 11 cities: Beijing, London, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, São Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai, Sydney, and Tokyo.
The report emphasised a role for regulators, noting that governments and policymakers play an equally significant role in setting standards, providing crucial research, and mandating change.
A GIC representative declined to comment for this story, instead pointing AsianInvestor to its annual report, which refers to diverse candidate slates and hiring panels, training hiring managers to mitigate unconscious bias, and the 2022 launch of a female leadership programme to promote diversity in senior roles.
According to the annual report, a recent study at GIC revealed that, after controlling for role as well as performance and experience levels, salary increments and bonuses in GIC were not statistically different by gender.
Findings from Gender Equity Insights 2020: Delivering on Business Outcomes, a report by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre, show that an increase of 10% or more in female representation in 2022 among ‘top-tier’ managers led to a 6.6% increase in the market value of Australian ASX-listed companies.
In the US, research by Paul Gompers, the Eugene Holman Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School in the US, and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, has established a connection between improved performance and high diversity in the US venture capital industry.
Gompers examined tens of thousands of VC investments in the US, logging the relationship between a range of diversity measures for the VC investor, including gender, ethnicity, schooling and work history, and investment outcome.
An article in the Harvard Business Review in July 2018, co-written by Silpa Kovvali, noted that diversity significantly improves financial performance, from profitable investments at the individual portfolio-company level to overall fund returns.
However, the diversity of the venture capital industry that Gompers studied was very low. At the time, only 8% of VC investors were women and fewer than 1% were black.
“The business case is clear,” GIC said in its January report. “Long-term value is tied to robust DE&I practices, and DE&I enables enhanced employee engagement, better brand perception, and increased innovation.”