Using Better Data to Align Investments to Improve the Lives of Women and Girls

“Data can be sexist.”

That was one of Bill and Melinda Gates’ biggest surprises of last year, described in their 2019 Annual Letter. In discussing the gaps in the global data about women and girls, they wrote, “For example, we don't know how much income women in developing countries earned last year or how much property they own or how many more hours girls spend on household chores than boys do. Better data will help policymakers take action to improve women's and girls' lives.”

At the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, we agree. And we’d add that better data not only helps policymakers, but also philanthropic funders and financial investors.

In The XX Factor: A Comprehensive Framework to Improve the Lives of Women & Girls (“XX Factor Framework”), we highlighted which data can help philanthropic funders understand where their help may be most needed. For example, data on maternal mortality rates can help donors understand where women’s health is most at risk, whether that is in a village in Malawi or a neighborhood in North Philadelphia. 

In our follow-up guide, The XX Factor: How to Align Financial Investments to Improve the Lives of Women & Girls,  (“XX Factor Guidebook”), we asked “What data is available to align financial investments with interests in improving the lives of women and girls?” What we found was encouraging. 

If you are a financial investor, the largest share of your portfolio will likely be in public equity. Until approximately 2016, if you were a financial investor in public equity, much of the data available to help you align those investments with your interest in advancing women’s welfare would be limited to the number of women on corporate boards and in senior management.  While such figures are important and visible markers of gender equality, our team found that the data landscape is now rapidly expanding beyond counting women occupying roles at the top.

Over the past year, Bloomberg and Equileap have intentionally increased the number of data points they collect from companies. Such data points can help investors evaluate not only how women are faring as employees, but also how women’s lives are being affected by a business’s products and services. These new data points cover a broad range of company policies, practices, products, and public activities.  In addition to providing measures of how many women are employed at various levels in a company, they provide data on compensation and tenure, maternity leave and sexual harassment policies, how the company’s products, services and supply chain policies impact women, and if they have made public commitments to support women’s advancement.

For our analysis, we started by looking at data providers that make their data points available publicly: Bloomberg, Equileap, and Thomson Reuters. We then reached out to two additional firms to expand our sample; MSCI responded. 

We often heard from investors and advisors that data to align financial investments with social impact concerns was too niche or difficult to come by. Yet Bloomberg LP, MSCI, and Thomson Reuters are all large, well-known data providers that, among other things, collect and publish financial and social information on thousands of companies across the world. Equileap is a nonprofit that specifically collects and licenses data on women in global companies and is a source of for other data providers, such as Bloomberg.

We focused our analysis on data points in Bloomberg’s Gender-Equality Index, Thomson Reuters’s Diversity & Inclusion Index, Equileap’s Gender Scorecard, and those identified by MSCI’s team as relevant to the XX Factor Framework, our previously published comprehensive framework for donors on improving the lives of women and girls.  

We found that 73 of the 122 relevant data points related to women and girls are related or closely related to the determinants in our original XX Factor framework. The majority of those data points —  61 — are related to the economic empowerment, one of the five dimensions outlined in the original XX Factor Framework.  This is not surprising since companies are primarily economic entities. But economic empowerment is only part of the picture of women’s lives.

Data are scarce for other determinants of good outcomes for women identified in the XX Factor Framework. For example, there were few data on access to mental healthcare coverage, finance, and education. The most notable void in the data relates to access to contraception and reproductive health agency and rights, determinants that our team found were associated with every one of the dimensions of women’s lives described in the original XX Factor Framework. At the time of our original analysis, only Bloomberg and MSCI were currently collecting data — one data field each — related to contraceptives. Bloomberg’s data field identified whether a company offers contraceptive coverage to employees. MSCI’s data field measures revenue from contraceptives and was designed for Catholic investors seeking to eliminate companies that earn profits from selling contraceptives.

We hope the XX Factor Framework and now the XX Factor Guidebook will influence not just donors, advisors, and investors, but also data providers. Because the better the data, the more informed philanthropic funders and financial investors can be  and the greater chance we all have for  improving  outcomes for women, girls, and communities around the world.

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Katherina Rosqueta is the founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy, and adjunct faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice.