The pandemic has magnified longstanding women’s issues. How can environmental, social, and governance (ESG) investing advance gender equality? The women of Sage weigh in.
Director of Marketing Communications
Director of Client Administration
Vice President, Business Development & Consultant Relations
Client Services Associate & Executive Assistant
ESG Research Analyst
Marketing Communications Associate
ESG Research Analyst
Total time: 23:18
Jessica McHugh: Much has been written about how this pandemic has amplified the challenges women face. Many of these issues deal with work and childcare disruptions, and our roles as care workers. Today I'm joined by quite a few of my colleagues who are women. We are all working from home and will be doing so at least until the end of the year. We're here to talk about how the pandemic has affected women's lives and how sustainable investing, ESG investing, can be a force for good in advancing gender equality. I'm Jessica McHugh, director of marketing communications at Sage. And I'd like to start off this discussion by asking my female co-workers on this podcast, who range in age from early-20s to mid-30s, what is something you like about being at home, working from home? And maybe something you are struggling with?
Kari Edgar: My name is Kari Edgar. I'm director of client administration here at Sage. While working from home, I love not having to commute. I feel like this allows me more time with my family in the mornings in the evenings. I also actually get more work done throughout the day. I've created a workspace at home where it's quiet and I can really focus. The only thing that I don't love about working from home is – I miss my coworkers. I miss seeing people's faces. I'm a people person so sometimes the Zoom meetings just aren't cutting it.
Lily Tu: You mean you don't like to see my triple chin?
Kari Edgar: No, that I love -- Just kidding. You don't have a triple chin.
Jessica Hernandez: Hey, this is Jessica Hernandez and I work in client services here at Sage and I agree. One of the things I do like is the flexibility. I like the fact that I can step away from my desk as I would maybe step away from my desk at work to go downstairs and get a La Croix and be stopped by someone in the office for a few minutes to chat, but I can walk from my office space here to start a load of laundry to come back to where sometimes now, I feel like I can get more done. The thing I am struggling with though, is mental health just because like Kari said, I too am a people person. I like that social interaction. So this is awkward for me – a Zoom type of situation. I like to be able to touch people and hug and you know that is a big part of my well-being, and so that's been a struggle. Although I love my family, it’s usually 24/7. I like the break.
Kari Edgar: I need a break.
Lily Tu: I need a break. I do, too.
Sara Rodriguez: I agree with Jessica. I think there are definitely a lot of positives to working from home. But for me at least – My name is Sara. I just got hired at Sage at the beginning of March. And this is kind of my first job after graduating school. And although I had been an intern at Sage for a few months before I came on full time, I kind of thought once I came on full time, maybe I would start working with more people, meeting more people. And the day that I accepted my full-time offer was the same day that I told my boss, you know, maybe you should send me home because I think I can do my job from there quite easily. And we should have less people in the office. And we haven't been back since. So I think there has been kind of a lack of relationship building for me. Because it's difficult when you're just working over teams, and you don't really get to meet as many people as you would in an office setting.
Kari Edgar: I think for a lot of us, I mean, we were dying to get the opportunity to work from home and, try it out. And now we're kind of like, Oh, I'm missing at work. So for a lot of us, it maybe is not going to be one way or the other. But going back it might be kind of nice to have a combo of each for a really good work/life balance.
Emma Harper: I think I've seen both sides of the coin – I’m Emma Smith, Harper. I’m so used to saying Emma Smith, Harper. I’m a research analyst at Sage. And it's been better to focus on certain very in-depth research projects or you know scoring projects, etcetera. But it's been harder I think sometimes with the technological side of, it sometimes going on to some system like Bloomberg or FactSet, or different systems that we use at Sage, it's harder to access those, you know, the outside server and the VPN gives me trouble all the time. So there is that challenge of it. But on the other side of the coin, it's been easier to focus, but yet it hasn't because of the extra house projects or house needs some work going on.
Lily Tu: And Emma to your point – This is Lily Tu, I'm the vice president of business development and consultant relations. And to your point, I do think from a work perspective, for me, it's been a little bit challenging, because I'm supposed to be building relationships with people and garnering new assets and helping develop business and it's challenging, right? Because we all know that personal relationships are built, more or less, in person. Right, people want to do business with someone that they know that they trust that they understand and to be able to build that relationship online or, you know, Jessica, to your point, you know, via Zoom meeting or Microsoft Teams meeting is challenging. You don't get to feel the personality there, or there's certain factors that you don't really get to see with the Zoom, right? And you kind of also, with a lot of these Zoom meetings, you go straight to the point, you don't do as much chitchat. Whereas if you went out to dinner, or went to a lunch, you get to know the person – you get to, again, build that relationship. On Zoom calls, you get maybe five minutes of trying to build that relationship. And that's it, right. So in some ways, it's more efficient. I'm sure the other person is probably happy with it. But for me on my side of things, it's a little bit more challenging.
Clemence Kelman: I was going to speak to Emma's point on technology because right now I'm having technology issues. I've been dropped from the call several times because I'm in California. And I was going to say it's been nice visiting my family in California and having that flexibility. But with the California fires going on, there's power outage issues. So I've been struggling a little bit with that this week. But it's been nice, I think, to have flexibility – like I'm young, just like Sara, and this is Clemence, I'm a marketing associate at Sage. And this was also my first job out of college. So it's been nice to have flexibility and kind of be able to travel more after graduating, but it's really just to see family. And I am working different hours, but also I think that we are missing the in-person aspect that's really nice at work. So that's been a little bit of a struggle for me.
Jessica McHugh: Thank you all for contributing. We wrote this piece, called Women and Wealth: A Powerful Force We Can’t Afford to Lose, and I want to talk a little bit about, why did we write this paper about the effects of the pandemic on women, and why it's important to highlight women during 2020 when this is something that's happening to everyone.
Kari Edgar: I think, just to go ahead and say it, women in general are usually the caretakers of the family. So that's why this is hitting them harder than anyone else, because they are deciding between work and taking care of their children or their parents. But with children, they're also having to educate them at the same time. They're having to take a time out from their careers and hoping to jump back in when all of this is over. And so I feel like it's extremely important for companies now more than ever to support working women.
Lily Tu: The longer that Covid is around, the higher probability that women will start dropping out of the workforce, right? I mean, we all said that we all need a break. I mean, how much longer until we literally break and we can't do our jobs effectively, right? I mean, it's been, how many months at this point? Five months, like, when is there going to be a vaccine? Probably another year to year and a half. In many households, unfortunately, males are the ones that can be the breadwinner, or the other partner can be the breadwinner. And so you have to make that choice between do I raise my children and help educate them and keep them safe and healthy? Or do I take it for the team and, you know, put my career on the side and focus on all those things? Like, I think that the longer this draws out, the more difficult decisions, women or caretakers, it doesn't have to be women, the caretakers have to make a choice. I think we had one of the statistics I had read was, you know, women now control 32% of the global wealth, right? And that's, that's a big percentage. And, you know, if women start dropping out of the workforce, then that percentage will really come down.
Jessica Hernandez: And Lily, to your point about women having to choose and the longer this goes on, possibly seeing women have to give up their careers. You know, for me, I had my third child during this pandemic, like the very beginning of April. I was home for two weeks on this work-from-home situation and then I had a new baby. And so for me, when I mentioned my mental health, and not only was just general worrisome of being a mom, am I doing this right? Am I still doing my job correctly? But it was also postpartum. And still having all of those same responsibilities. And it was really, really hard. And since I was little, I've always wanted to go to college, I was the first in my family to do so. So I wanted to go to college and I wanted to have a career, but I also always wanted to be a mom. And I feel like during this pandemic, it feels like so many people have to make the choice one or the other. And I don't think that's fair. I think that we should be able to work together somehow for them to have both. I was reading the piece, and one of the things that really stuck out to me, was saying too often the diversity and inclusion section of company sustainability reports focuses only on surface-level statistics, such as the number of women employed in the workforce, rather than on policies that create a company culture that supports women. And that's huge. I'm very grateful for Sage because we do have, you know, I did have time to be home with my babies. But it is definitely a struggle when you consider coming back after that and being able to manage 1, 2, 3 – however many kids you have, plus your job and still do it well.
Lily Tu: That was really well said.
Clemence Kelman: I was going to add, I think this issue is definitely worth highlighting. Especially now because after all the research we did for this piece, I think we are becoming more and more aware of how much work and time the fight for equality has taken women. And just based off research and other articles written, there seemed to be kind of some sort of widespread fear among people discussing the issue that this pandemic, while it seems like it's just a singular event, it can actually set back the work women have done for decades. And on that, I saw a really interesting stat from the National Women's Law Center, it was saying that the number of women who lost employment just in the month of April was actually greater than the 11 million jobs women gained since the end of the great recession in July 2010. So that I just thought that was really – I think that really makes it such an important issue.
Kari Edgar: I think also like, going along with that, I mean, I was just thinking about the future and hiring women. And now that we've gone through this pandemic, and companies have seen women have to drop out of their career to stay at home. How likely are they then to pick them as the next candidate to work for them knowing that they might have to take off time if this ever happened again, to take care of their family? It could really hurt us going forward.
Jessica McHugh: Clemence brought up some really great points about, you know, why this is a women's issue. As you're researching these issues, or as you were putting components of the paper together -- the issues that women face have been magnified by the pandemic. Is there anything else that you'd say was just shocking in the research that you've done or the statistics that you’ve seen?
Clemence Kelman: In regard to the economic effects on women, I think I was just disappointed. I don't know if surprised, but mainly disappointed to see that it's not only the sectors in which women are more greatly represented that experience most layoffs. But even in looking at the individual industries, women accounted for a greater percentage of layoffs when compared to men in the same field. And that was surprising to me, because at first I thought maybe in education, health services well, women, I saw that they make up 77% of the workforce. And so I thought that would make sense that more would be laid off, but they actually accounted for 83% of job losses. So seeing that, how it's more affecting women a little bit and then more discriminatory fashion is just kind of disappointing to see and shocking for the individual sectors I looked up.
Sara Rodriguez: Yeah, to add onto that a little bit, one of those statistics that I found pretty shocking had to do with the wealth gap, which we hear about a lot, that women make 81 cents for every dollar a man makes. But the part that I found pretty crazy was that if the wealth gap continues to close at the same rate that it has been, it'll take until the year 2059 for white women to reach pay parity. But then for black women, it'll be until the year 2119 and 2224 for Hispanic women. So literally, I mean, hundreds of years there. 200 years for Hispanic women to reach pay parity, and I think that we think about these gender equality issues a lot. But sometimes we miss also thinking about the nuances within these gender equality issues and how they also affect women of different races in an even greater way.
Jessica McHugh: You both bring up really good points. I think it’s important to highlight the progress women have made, whether it be closing the pay gap, paid parental leave, garnering managerial roles, increasing representation in traditionally male-dominated industries. But there’s still a long way to go as evidenced by your findings. Let’s turn to the financial advisor community. What are you hearing from financial advisors, Lily, in terms of using investment dollars to advance women’s issues?
Lily Tu: You know, I would say that in the advisor community, there is an increasing focus on women in general, whether it is, you know, investing in women. So that's helping to advance women's careers, helping women to narrow the gender pay gap, or it's just helping women to invest. Now, frankly, I think it has been a segment that many have neglected until the last, I don't know, five years. Historically, I'd say the breadwinners of households have been predominantly males. And you know, the males have historically been the decision makers. But as women have kind of fought their way up the corporate ladder, and as they've started their own businesses, there's been a realization that women are garnering more and more control of household assets and wealth. As the demand has picked up, we at Sage we've been helping organizations optimize the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, SDG No. 5, which is gender equality. We provide metrics on our portfolios as it relates to the SDGs. And we hope that there continues to be a push towards increased disclosures and transparencies from companies so that we have more data to work with so that we can look under the hood of more companies and really assess whether they are working towards gender equality.
Jessica McHugh: I think that last part there really gets to the heart of the paper, when we’re talking about ESG – environmental, social, and governance investing, and how ESG investing can help people invest in the issues they care about, such as gender equality. And Jessica brought up a good point earlier – it’s not enough for companies to have these policies in place, there needs to be a company culture that supports and promotes the policies. So what do companies need to do in order for us, as investors, to be to be able to say yes, I’m going to invest in this company because it clearly advances women’s issues?
Sara Rodriguez: I would have to say that I think just to address it. I don't think it's possible right now with what we have. I think that's the first thing we have to recognize. I think that it's really difficult because there's a lack of standardization, like we mentioned in the paper. There's really no set list of policies that are kind of the best practice that companies are following right now. So some companies will have maternal and paternal leave in place, but some companies don't. And does that make them necessarily better for women? It's not really measurable right now. So I think the first step is kind of deciding, well, what have we seen that actually does create a culture that supports women, and kind of creating a framework that companies can look at and say, “okay, this is what we need to employ in order to start gender equality within our company.”
Emma Harper: So I think all those points are 100% accurate. I think right now, the challenge is that we do get a lot of surface-level statistics that are reported. So we get how many women are employed, how many women are in management. How many women you know, in a portfolio or, or how many companies in the portfolio are women-led companies, CEOs, etcetera. But that doesn't really tell us a lot about the company culture, a lot about how women in the workforce that are actually working in these companies are being treated and how the policies that are put in place are being enacted. Right. So as Sarah was saying, it's good to have policies, but unless you have a culture that's supportive of the policies, and you're not going to get people taking advantage of those policies. So one, we need better reporting of the policies, we need better understanding of what best practices are. So what kind of policies are really the best to follow versus not? Are there standardized ways of reporting this, other ways of reporting actual culture? What kind of ways could we kind of take into account for culture? Can we take surveys? Are there any sort of employee engagement, you know, surveys that we can have undertaken by companies, etcetera? I think there needs to be a better way of actually getting inside the box and taking a look at policies and culture.
Jessica McHugh: Are there any companies or organizations today that are leading in terms of standardizing what should be reported by companies when it comes to gender equality or diversity and inclusion issues?
Emma Harper: I think there are certain industries that lead in this area, industries that take account of the “S” in ESG, the more the social side and how they're treating their employees. So a lot of industries or industries that fall into that would be like tech technology companies tend to do a decent job at this. Now, that's not to say that the whole entire technology industry falls under this because there are a lot of hurdles to cross for a lot of issues in technology companies, but as a broad kind of spectrum, I would say tech firms tend to have a higher social kind of awareness with their employees. And actually, from the research that I did for this, insurance companies actually tend to fall under this a little bit and as far as treatment of employees, and they're listed under some of the best places to work for women. And so those are two kind of industries that tend to excel in this kind of area.
Jessica McHugh: So there are really three key elements to improving ESG investing’s effectiveness in advancing gender equality – 1) there needs to be a standardized set of policies that are proven to be effective in creating a more equal workplace, 2) companies need to clearly report on these policies and 3) companies also need to measure their efficacy – how employees are utilizing these policies and is there a company culture that supports them.
Thank you so much to all of you for being on our podcast today – Lily Tu, Jessica Hernandez, Clemence Kelman, Emma Harper, and Sara Rodriguez.
Please follow us on our LinkedIn page at Sage Advisory and on our Instagram @sageadvisory. Until we meet again, take care.
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