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What Texas’s abortion law means for financial services

By Bryan Turner

It’s time to put your money where your mouth is in the fight for gender equality.

The recent signing of Texas’ abortion law, which bans abortions after the first six weeks of the pregnancy and effectively places a bounty on anyone found to be breaking it, has rightly been condemned around the globe.

But it should also act as a reminder that the hard-won rights of women are easily overturned, even in apparently robust democracies.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that it’s not only lawmakers who can erode those rights. According to a study by the Understanding Society, UK women spent 1.5 times as much time as men doing housework during lockdown, and nearly twice as much time doing homeschooling.

As a result, one in six working mothers reduced their employment hours and one in three working mothers adapted their work patterns.

Working fathers were five percentage points less likely to reduce working hours and seven percentage points less likely to adapt work patterns due to childcare/homeschooling than working mothers.

Of course, lockdown didn’t so much introduce new levels of inequality as reinforce them. In the UK, women earn an average of 15.5 per cent less than their male counterparts.

While that number drops to 7.4 per cent among full-time employees, it still indicates deep-seated inequalities. Further to this, just 6 per cent of FTSE 100 companies have a female chief executive, a number which hasn’t increased since 2017.

Even among chief executives, there is clear evidence of inequality between women and men.

According to digital coaching firm Ezra, the average male CEO in the UK earns around £5.3m, compared to £4.42m for women, meaning male chief executives earn 17 per cent more than their female counterparts.

All of this points to the fact that we still have a long way to go when it comes to gender equality.

As the father of two girls, I wonder how I can raise them to believe they can be anything they dream of in the face of stats like that. If we’re to have any chance of finally closing those gaps, we all have a lot of hard work to do.

Investment is no exception

The investment community is no exception in that regard. Just 19 per cent of board seats at portfolio companies owned by private equity firms are held by women, according to a study by HUI Research commissioned by the Swedish Private Equity & Venture Capital Association.

Bloomberg analysis from 2019, meanwhile, found that women fill only 8 per cent of senior investment roles globally at the 10 largest private equity firms.

This is despite the overwhelming evidence which shows that gender-smart investment strategies can help grow a company’s competitiveness, solidify its supply base, improve its human capital, and help build an overall enabling business environment.

In fact, research from IFC shows that private equity firms at which women comprise at least 30 per cent of the investment decision-making team achieved 10 to 20 per cent higher rates of return than those in which women were not well represented.

Without women occupying those positions, female-founded businesses end up missing out on investment. According to IFC, female investment partners invested in almost twice as many female-led businesses as male investment partners.

Given that around a third of UK entrepreneurs are women, there’s certainly no shortage of entrepreneurs who could use investment. These are the same entrepreneurs, by the way, who are constantly touted as the engines of innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, if women participated equally as entrepreneurs, the rise in GDP across the world could be between 3 per cent to 6 per cent.

While the UK economy may have bounced back post-Covid, no one could rationally turn down that kind of additional growth.

Great female leaders 

For anyone willing to look, it’s also not difficult to find great female entrepreneurial leadership. A good example of this kind of leadership from within our own portfolio is RunwaySale.

Led by co-founder and chief operating officer Elmien Hammerschmidt, the South African ecommerce retailer employs nearly 150 people, 77 per cent of whom are women.

When we decided to invest more than US$5m in 2020, Hammerschmidt’s leadership and passion for the business she’d built up were significant factors.

That focus on leadership proved to be prudent when COVID-19 struck and e-commerce activities in South Africa were severely curtailed.

Hammerschmidt guided the company through this particularly tricky time, overseeing its expansion beyond fashion and into homeware and other categories.

The results speak for themselves. Whereas RunwaySale was previously competing with a small cohort of other online fashion outlets, it’s now competing with traditional brick-and-mortar stores.

A better future 

I guarantee you that there is no shortage of women entrepreneurs like Hammerschmidt in the UK and around the globe.

Investing in them won’t just help close the gender wealth gap; it also means more taxpayers to fund government education and healthcare initiatives that benefit girls and women.

It would be fatuous for me to say that investment can fix everything. It can’t change the attitude some men have towards women or immediately close the salary gap, for example. But it can do a lot of good.

The UK might not be on the verge of becoming Texas, but it should not rest on its laurels.

Instead, it should do everything it can to ensure that women of all ages and education levels around the world are empowered and given as many opportunities as possible. It’s hard to think of a better way to do so than by investing in them.

Bryan Turner is Partner at Spear Capital

This article was first published by Financial Times on the  4 October 2021.

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