Improving gender diversity not a zero-sum game, says AXA IM's Anne Tolmunen

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Improving gender diversity not a zero-sum game, says AXA IM's Anne Tolmunen

Improving gender diversity is reliant on our ability, as investors, to explain the benefits it entails for everyone and change perceptions that it is a zero-sum game, she says. 

"As a society we're missing out by not completely including women in the workplace and the more we can do to change that, the better. " Anne Tolmunen, manager of the AXA WF Framlington Women Empowerment fund comments.

Having a more gender balanced workplace and more women in leadership roles has been shown to enhance staff engagement and retention; innovation; client alignment and brand reputation; governance standards; and risk adjusted financial performance, obviously benefiting all employees.

The benefits of gender diversity in the workplace also aid society as a whole. Companies who provide women with better opportunities drive the expansion of household wealth and disposable income levels, benefiting both households and companies. Through consumers with higher purchasing power and governments with higher tax receipts the whole of society stands to benefit.

Tolmunen, whose fund1 has just passed its two-year anniversary, is keen to stress that many of the policies that may be viewed as ‘female-friendly' and aim to ensure equal access to opportunities - such as flexible working hours, paid parental leave, and forging a more inclusive work culture are all practices that benefit the workforce overall. Research2 shows that Millennials value more flexible working practices, working dads tend to welcome being able to access flexible work or paid paternal leave, and a more inclusive work culture also opens the door to other minorities to join in. 

She contends that "there needs to be a recognition that improved gender diversity does not need to come at the expense of men, otherwise further progress will not happen. Improving diversity is not a zero-sum game. Diversity initiatives have to be about expanding the pie for everyone."

While Tolmunen praises the governments in the UK and in France for their efforts to enhance transparency around gender inequality, she says the data around diversity needs to be broader and more granular in order to assess which organisations are truly nurturing diverse cultures.

Better data disclosure, argues Tolmunen, will also help catalyse progress by shedding light on issues which companies will feel compelled to rectify. As it currently stands we unfortunately don't have much granularity in the data, and the data we have tends to focus at the top of the corporate pyramid.
"It becomes a virtuous circle," she says. "The more granularity and transparency you get in the data, the more fact-based and productive, the discussion becomes. This allows for more meaningful comparisons and a deeper understanding of the sources of imbalances, which in turn leads to more effective action planning and greater accountability. Data availability and analysis is a crucial step towards resolving these issues."