Companies with a higher presence of female executives have historically rewarded their equity investors with better performance, said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. strategists as they unveiled a basket of European firms that employ an elevated number of women.
“Over more or less any period since the global financial crisis, having more women in senior positions as managers or on the board is associated with company outperformance relative to the sector,” the strategists led by Sharon Bell wrote in a note on Tuesday. They added that this doesn’t apply to all industries and that academic research isn’t yet conclusive on this trend.
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Goldman analysts rolled out a new basket of European companies with the most women at all levels, called Womenomics (GSSTWOMN Index), which includes firms such as LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, Swedbank AB, Nestle SA and AstraZeneca Plc. French and Nordic companies dominate the list, said the strategists, as France has a quota system for female board members while the Nordic region has historically had higher female labor participation.
Europe is beating the U.S. in its push to make women a more equal part of the workforce, and although the pay gap between men and women remains large in the region, it’s smaller in all major countries in Europe than in the U.S., Canada and in Japan, according to Goldman. Workforce participation rates among women in Europe have been rising, while in the U.S. they’ve been flat since the late 1990s, said the strategists.
The research weighs in on the market debate regarding the importance of investing based on environmental, social and governance principles. Europe has been seeing a boom in appetite for such investing this year, with about 50% of all new exchange-traded funds in Europe, the Middle East and Africa this year ESG-related and accumulating about $4.2 billion in assets, according to Citigroup Inc. data. That compares with $3.8 billion for new non-ESG funds.
Inflows into ESG-focused strategies may have contributed to the better equity performance among companies with higher female presence, Goldman said.
“The price outperformance may be a function of flows into ESG funds targeting diversity metrics, rather than more women producing better outcomes or lower risks,” the strategists said. “But even if this were the case, we continue to believe investors will value higher social and governance scores for companies, so companies that do perform well on these metrics should continue to attract both flows and a premium.”
As a to-be-sure, Goldman strategists also added that they weren’t able to find a correlation between higher female presence and returns on equity. While the outperformance of companies with more women is “pretty robust” for different time periods, in industries like technology it doesn’t work, according to Goldman, as the sector has been slow to improve its diversity.
They also said that academic research hasn’t been conclusive on whether employing more women means better performance.
Goldman’s Europe Womenomics index is down about 7.8% this year, compared with a drop of 11% for the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 gauge. Over the past five years, the difference is much more significant, with Womenomics up 22% compared with a gain of around 4.2% for the Stoxx 600.
The companies in the basket have on average 46% female employees, compared with 36% for the benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 Index. In addition the selected companies have 40% female managers and 42% women on the board.
Goldman doesn’t believe females in the workforce will be more adversely affected than men by the fallout from Covid-19. While women are more heavily represented in such industries as travel, media and retail, which have seen strong profit declines during this year’s crisis, more women are employed by the public sector, where salaries have held up better.
Longer-term social changes as a result of the pandemic could also benefit women, according to Goldman.
“There is likely to be less commuting, more online work and working from home, and this should enhance flexibility for both men and women,” the strategists said. “It is the flexibility of both women and men that we think has been a determinant in increasing women’s participation in the workforce in recent years.”