The chief executive of newly launched Verve Super fund is taking a radical approach to raising the profile of gender inequality in superannuation, becoming the first fund in the industry to apply a gender lens to its investment process and pushing others to do the same.
“There are three aspects to the way we’re addressing the gender issues in superannuation,” says Christina Hobbs, chief executive of the fund, which launched in December last year.
“The first is about our role as a shareholder. We invest ethically, and we’re the first superannuation company in Australia that applies a gender lens so we don’t invest in companies that don’t have women on their boards,” says Hobbs, who will speak at Professional Planner’s upcoming Retirement Conference in March, during a session titled “Retirement Outcomes: gender imbalances and ethical issues”.
Further, Hobbs says the superannuation fund is looking to “apply pressure” to companies it invests in to make public how gender-equal its payrolls are. “This year, we’ll be going to the AGMs of some of our ethical holdings and asking them to release their pay equality report publicly,” she reveals.
Hobbs says the gender lens is something that’s been missing in the ethical investing landscape.
“We haven’t seen it before,” she says. “One aspect is the board level and the other aspect is that we look through the supply – we also don’t invest in companies that have known human rights abuses against women in their supply chains.”
Verve calls itself “Australia’s first superannuation fund for women, by women”, and is focused on providing services to women, ethical investing and being an agitator for change. The asset management function of Verve is taken care of by Future Super, which leaves it free to focus on lobbying for women’s issues and helping women empower themselves financially.
Hobbs explains that the second way Verve addresses gender inequality is by providing free financial coaching to its members and helping them prepare for retirement, “because it’s much harder for women in the current system”.
The third active gender focus Verve has is around advocacy and lobbying companies for change.
“We advocate for policy geared at better retirement for women,” Hobbs explains. “We also do things like requesting that bosses let their employees contribute to their super while they’re on parental leave, and looking at what actions [corporations] can take to help their female employees. So, it’s corporate as well as political.”
Regarding the gender lens, she says the purpose is related to more than just opportunity for all. The payoff, Hobbs says, is also tied to governance, risk and return.
“As a superannuation company, we’re obviously required to make all of our investment decisions based on what we think is the best retirement outcome for our members,” she says. “We do this because it’s ethical but also because all the research shows that companies perform better when they have more diverse boards.”
Hobbs believes this is something all super funds should consider.
“We’re trying to bring the market along with us in that respect,” she says.