HESTA further explores gender diversity

HESTA is surveying how many women are instrumental in investing its $43 billion in funds under management across its 70 external fund managers. The project is based on evidence that shows greater diversity in investment decision-making leads to healthier returns.

Sonya Sawtell-Rickson, HESTA chief investment officer, explained that while fund managers are publishing their statistics on gender, they don’t publish how many of those people are involved in the investment decision-making roles versus support roles such as marketing. This can distort the gender numbers in key roles.

She continued to say there will often be more women in accounting and HR and fewer women in the front office, which is why HESTA has been specific when wanting to know gender numbers related to investment decision-making.

Sawtell-Rickson argued the importance of retaining women in investment roles within teams early in their career as they are often approached to shift into client-servicing and sales roles, and it can be difficult to shift back. She acknowledged that overall diversity is much broader than the proportion of women in various roles, and gender is just the start.

HESTA has been using its influence to increase the gender diversity on corporate boards and increase the number of female directors and senior executives in Australia’s 200 largest listed companies. Last year Debby Blakey, HESTA chief executive, wrote to ASX 200 companies and requested they set numerical targets and timeframes about the gender diversity of their company. HESTA will use its shareholder voting powers to take action against male-only boards by seeking re-elections of the most senior members.

HESTA is paying superannuation to its employees on both paid and unpaid parental leave for up to 12 months. Blakey has been a Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) pay equity ambassador since 2016. HESTA was named an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the WGEA.