My Portfolio

November 9, 2012 6:14 pm

At last, gender is on the agenda

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Dina Iordanova looks for companies with women on their boards
Dina Iordanova

When I began contributing to this rubric about 18 months ago, I was the first woman routinely to write in the Financial Times about running a retail investment portfolio. It has not been long enough to allow me to sum up decades of experience, as John Lee did last week. Yet, even in this short period of time, many women have contacted me – it has been a revelation how many are out there in the shadows. Apart from the ambiguous credit given to Japanese housewives, the invisibility of women from the DIY investing scene is telling.

Could it be a matter of confidence, or at least a lack of bravado? Perhaps. There is some academic evidence that women make better investors than men, and are less inclined to boast about it, but there isn’t much regular debate about the matter. But I would point out that my own results have routinely been better than those of my personal benchmark, the US-based Fairholme Fund, run by two men.

Then, there is the “women in the boardroom” debate. I don’t believe that quotas, as proposed by some, will resolve the problem of chronic female underrepresentation on company boards. But I thought I could do my bit to back companies that have introduced women on boards without being told to do so. So I am now considering investing in two companies with gender-balanced boards.

One is Lonrho, the Africa-focused conglomerate whose shares trade on Aim There are, of course, a number of solid reasons to look at investing in it anyhow: the area of activity is promising, it is well diversified, and a recent presentation in London was persuasive and robust. And, last but not least, Lonhro is one of the few publicly traded companies where three out of seven directors, including the non-executive chairman, are women.

I am also considering buying shares in Dundee-based Alliance Trust, one of the oldest investment companies on the market. It first came to my attention some years ago, when a Scottish friend told me her granny bequeathed Alliance shares to her; all her adult life she had enjoyed the income that the steadily rising quarterly dividend payments were producing for her.

More recently, under pressure from activist investors to improve performance, Alliance has reoriented the portfolio towards Asia, as my friend had noticed. But she was complete unaware that three out of the seven directors at Alliance Trust are women; indeed, it is probably the only company of this size where currently both chairman and chief executive are female.

While the presence and percentage of women on boards could never be a deciding factor in an investment, I believe that it is justified to consider the issue along with more conventional yardsticks – just as other investors may consider a company’s position on the environment or human rights before investing.

Purchasing shares in companies that are “doing it right” in terms of gender balance may be political, but no more so than favouring investing in China over Europe. There is no consistent evidence that companies with more women on board perform better, but there is no consistent evidence to the contrary, either. And it feels like the right thing to do.

Dina Iordanova is a private investor writing about her own personal investments. She may have a financial interest in any of the companies and trading strategies mentioned

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