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Jul 10, 2018

Egg freezing and gender reassignment: New data points for investors to watch

Having this data will open up the investment community to look beyond just board diversity
IR Magazine chats to Kiersten Barnet, manager of Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index
Kiersten Barnet, deputy chief of staff at Bloomberg and manager of the Gender-Equality Index

Bloomberg launched its Gender-Equality Index (GEI) for financial services companies in 2016, and this year released the first sector-neutral GEI.

The index was launched in response to demand from investors for more data points that can tell a more nuanced story about a company’s approach to gender, says Kiersten Barnet, deputy chief of staff at Bloomberg and manager of the GEI.

The GEI’s survey includes 67 questions, many of which will seem familiar – diversity in board and executive positions, gender pay metrics. But it also explores new topics that aren’t disclosed elsewhere, including whether companies cover egg-freezing services or gender-reassignment procedures, and whether the company has lobbied on behalf of a long list of women and family rights laws over the last 10 years.

In this interview, Barnet discusses how the GEI has evolved over the last few years and shares some of the statistics that have most surprised her since Bloomberg started capturing this data.

When did the GEI start?

It initially started as a pilot under Michael Bloomberg three years ago. It was created out of an understanding that our clients were increasingly using ESG data as part of their risk analysis. The ‘E’ and the ‘G’ were quite strong because a lot of that information is contained in public filings, but with ‘S’ data we didn’t have a good offering. The key part of the GEI is that it’s a way for investors to get data. It also highlights what companies are doing about gender.

How do you obtain the information for the GEI?

The survey is 67 questions broken down into four sections: employment statistics, internal policies, public support for women’s issues and product offerings supporting women. Between five and 10 of those data points are already in public filings, but the majority are not. Then we publish the information on the Bloomberg terminal. Companies don’t have to fill out the whole survey – we’re happy to publish whatever information we get.

From there we created the index. Once a company completes a survey, we score it. We score any company with a market cap over $1 bn that is listed on a US exchange. The scoring is done to encourage disclosure, so you get points for answering questions. Then you get additional points if you disclose best-in-class information. The current year’s index has 104 companies from 24 countries and regions. We don’t rank the companies in the index because it’s weighted by market cap.

What are some of the most surprising statistics you’ve seen this year?

This year 80 percent of our US companies cover gender reassignment. Maybe it’s a sign that companies that are leaders in this space are adopting policies more quickly than in the past. The majority of the companies in the index do a gender pay analysis, but none of our US companies publish one publicly. About 35 percent in Europe do.

For financial services firms, there was a 33 percent increase in executive officer roles held by women during the three years we’ve been tracking it. We also noticed that across the index the average company workforce is 46 percent female and last year 46 percent of promotions went to women. If you look at the pipeline problem, you probably want to move the needle faster, but at least it’s a good equitable number.

Conversations about gender diversity and equality in business can often focus on just board diversity. Why are these other data points important?

These statistics show you can be a leading company and still be really thoughtful about gender. Considering how many companies don’t have great female representation on their boards, it’s time to also look at other metrics. Historically, we haven’t had much other data; now, hopefully, having this data will open up the investment community to look beyond just board diversity.

One of our member companies said recently it gets frustrated with the focus on diversity at board and executive level. There aren’t as many opportunities for that number to move as quickly, so with this index companies can show investors the great work they’ve been doing in other areas.

How popular is the GEI compared with Bloomberg’s other indexes?

Looking at the number of terminal users who went to the GEI page, the hits have gone up 1,000 percent year on year. That’s outstanding compared with others. With the news cycle, [gender] is something people are paying more attention to now. One of the questions we ask is whether a company uses a third party to investigate sexual harassment issues. These are the sort of issues our clients are thinking about.

Ben Ashwell

Ben Ashwell was the editor at IR Magazine and Corporate Secretary , covering investor relations, governance, risk and compliance. Prior to this, he was the founder and editor of Executive Talent , the global quarterly magazine from the Association of...