Change Finance, a majority women-owned ETF issuer with deep roots in activism, is making a big push for pay equity by asking every company in its holdings to release racial and gender median pay gap data.
Within 48 hours since this petition was posted on YourStake.org, a platform for shareholder advocacy, it had garnered more than USD67.1 million of its USD100 million goal for assets signed on in support.
Dorrit Lowsen, President and COO of Change Finance explains that the driver for the initiative was partly the fact that there is a wealth of overlooked cost of pay inequality, with gender pay inequality estimated by the World Economic Forum to cost the US economy USD1.2 trillion dollars annually.
Statistics show that women of all races in the US earn only 82 per cent of what their male counterparts make; while black women earn 62 per cent and Latina women earn just 54 per cent.
“We had been talking about something on a smaller scale,” Lowsen says, “but then the murder of George Floyd and the following social unrest made us feel that we had to do something that mattered more than empty words.
“And as we thought about what we could actually do that would at least start the process of taking action in a meaningful way it seemed obvious it had to be on gender and race pay gaps.”
Change Finance had planned to target specific companies. “It occurred to us that this problem is a systemic problem that exists in every country and changing it in one or two companies is important but not big enough,” Lowsen says. “If we really want to make change system wide it has to change everywhere and that made us realise we could do something across our entire portfolio and as far as we could see no one else had taken on a shareholder advocacy campaign like this across the entire portfolio.”
Change Finance, a winner of ETF Express’s 2019 award for Best ESG ETF Provider, has USD19 million in assets under management.
The letter requesting racial and gender median pay data was sent to all the companies in their portfolio and through its support from YourStake has now amassed USD77 million of investor capital, linked to the campaign. “Investors have said to us: ‘We want this to happen,’” Lowsen says.
“This is something that matters because where there is a broad alignment of incentives, the data supports that its good for companies because companies that are good at diversity perform better, and that’s good for shareholders and employees and good for society.”
Lowsen notes that companies need to get over what she calls ‘the embarrassment hump’.
“If they were doing better, we wouldn’t see the pay gap, and we know that companies aren’t doing as well as they could,” she says. The response from companies within their portfolio has been mixed – a week after sending the letter, only five companies had responded out of a possible 100. And responses were mixed with a few saying ‘we are working on more ESG advisement’ or sending in their current reporting standards.
Lowsen will be joining the Thematics panel at the etfLIVE North America Digital Summit in October.