WFCO’s Investable Assets 100% Gender-Lens Invested by 2023
Money on a Mission: WFCO’s Gender-Lens Investment Strategies
By Akasha Absher, Principal and President, Syntrinsic Investment Counsel
By December 31, 2023, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado will offer donors something that no other community foundation in Colorado can claim: 100% of our investable assets will meet The Foundation’s gender-lens investment strategies.
The Foundation will reach this milestone less than 10 years after embarking on its gender-lens investing journey. As someone who has worked alongside The Foundation from the beginning, I am excited by WFCO’s bold commitment and the work it took to get there.
WFCO dipped its toe in gender-lens investment strategies beginning in 2014
It started in 2013, when members of Beyond our Borders, a giving circle held at The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, encouraged WFCO to use gender-lens investing to align all its resources with its mission. They made the case that “foundations can vastly multiply their impact if their endowment assets were put to further their vision.”
There was no question it was the right thing to do. However, many had concerns about sacrificing returns and consequently not being able to support grantmaking. At that time, gender-lens investing was in its infancy, and bias remained within the investing community that socially responsible investing would result in substandard returns.
However, in 2014, a unique opportunity emerged. Impax Asset Management built the first index of the highest-rated companies in the world for advancing gender-diverse leadership. It introduced the first mutual fund that followed that index, the Pax Ellevate Global Women’s Leadership Fund. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado used the monies in the Beyond our Borders fund and made its first step toward aligning money with mission.
By 2016, WFCO jumped into gender-lens investing with both feet
By 2016, lingering performance concerns were put to rest. The fund exceeded its prospectus benchmark by 1.0%* while investing in companies with a higher representation of women on the board of directors and executive management. The investment committee and the board unanimously agreed to increase the gender-lens allocation in its long-term investment portfolio and launched a new 100% gender-lens investment portfolio for donor-advised fundholders and giving circles. It was the first of its kind in Colorado.
With the help of Syntrinsic Investment Counsel, WFCO’s investment committee comprised of trustees and investment experts defined The Foundation’s impact goals for its gender-lens investments:
- Address gender and racial disparities
- Expand access to capital
- Further economic security
- Learn and share knowledge
In 2021, WFCO set targets for working with diverse investment managers
To meet the impact goals, the committee broadened its gender-lens investment strategies to include gender mandate strategies (strategies focused on workplace equity, access to capital, and products and services for women); environmental, social, and governance (ESG) integration; shareholder advocacy; and diverse investment managers.
In accordance with these strategies, and in step with The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s updated strategic framework focused on gender, racial, and economic equity, the committee determined an explicit commitment to diverse managers was needed to address the under-representation in the asset management industry. The overall percentage of assets under management controlled by diverse owned firms was only 1.4% in 2021. According to the Knight Foundation, 30 of the top 55 foundations have 16.6% of their endowments invested with diverse-owned firms.
Inspired by the Association of Black Foundation Executives’ pledge of “25% by 2025” pledge, The Foundation’s board voted in November 2021 to invest at least 25% of the investable assets of the total investment portfolio with diverse managers by 2025. At a minimum, 10% will be invested with managers from under-represented communities of color in the finance industry: Black, Latinx, Native American, and Asian.
“It was time to unapologetically integrate all assets of our operation and programs around our goals to demonstrate commitment and ensure the success of our strategic framework,” said Lauren Y. Casteel, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s president and CEO.
While The Women’s Foundation celebrates that as of March 31, 2022, more than 75% of the investable assets in its long-term portfolio met one of the four gender-lens investment strategies, The Foundation is focused on meeting its next milestone: Ensuring 100% of its investable assets meet the investment strategies by the end of 2023.
Learn more about WFCO’s gender-lens investing
To learn more, join an upcoming gender-lens investing webinar for fundholders on May 17 or for community members on May 19. Syntrinsic Investment Counsel will present The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s gender-lens investing goals and strategies and answer your questions.
Visit the gender-lens investment page for additional information.
*Since inception performance from April 22, 2014, through September 30, 2016.