Nasdaq, the US technology index, is currently the measure of all things on international equity markets. While in many places listings are still in the process of recovering the losses suffered during the corona sell-off, the marketplace brought into being just under 50 years ago is hurrying from one record to the next. Nasdaq Inc., the company behind the technology stock exchange, is following its own, very different tune: since the start of 2017 there has been a woman, Adena Friedman, at the top of the group. That makes the MBA one of a rather rare group of people, given that in 2019 females occupied the driving seat of just 4.5% of the more than 1,600 companies contained in the MSCI® World Index. The low number of female CEOs is not by any means the only evidence of what is known as the gender gap, the term regarded as synonymous with the continuing lack of parity between the sexes.
Since 2006 the World Economic Forum (WEF) has been regularly analysing whether and to what extent women stand on an equal footing with men in society when it comes to education, health, politics and business. Although the 2020 issue of the organisation's "Global Gender Gap Report" notes a considerable discrepancy – according to the WEF it could take nearly a century until gender parity has been achieved – progress has still been made. Last autumn index operator MSCI put the management structure of its global benchmarks under the microscope. The analysis covered the 2,765 companies included in the MSCI® ACWI Index at that time. Unlike the better-known MSCI® World, emerging markets are also represented in this barometer. Every fifth directorship was held by a woman in 2019. Within two years the proportion of women had thus increased by around 2 percentage points. Indeed, in the MSCI® World Index one quarter of positions on boards were filled by female managers (see graph). According to J.P. Morgan, women are coming to the fore in unprecedented numbers. "Their representation is rising worldwide, with Europe taking the lead," writes the US bank in a research note.
The European Union has put equality on its political agenda, with the EU itself setting a good example of this: since last December the EU Commission has been led by a woman, Ursula von der Leyen. "Gender equality is a core principle of the European Union, but it is not yet a reality," the German politician stated in March. Launching a strategy aimed at the 2020 to 2025 period, she wants both to address problems such as the widespread violence against women while at the same time encouraging parity of opportunity in professional life. In 2018 women in the EU earned just under 16% less than men. There has been only slow progress in this area over recent years (see graph). Alongside the pay ratio, Von der Leyen is also planning measures making it easier to reconcile work and private life as well as improving child support. She would additionally like to ensure a balance between the two genders in decision-making positions in both politics and business.
Companies should promote the influence of women not simply in order to take account of the ever-louder parity debate or in response to political pressure, but because having more women in power also stimulates economic success. According to the WEF, there is a correlation between the gender gap and the competitiveness of a company. Closing the gap can accordingly lead to an increase in earnings of more than 20%. Investors, too, should have pricked up their ears by now, if not before. This is all the more so given that ESG – environment, social and governance – aspects are making rapid advances on the stock market as stand-alone quality criteria. A focused search for "female" equities could therefore pay off twice over: it is in tune with the times and brings the opportunity of a greater return.