Zoe Lamont, Christina Hobbs and Alex Andrews of Verve Super

Superannuation funds have been falling over themselves in recent years to introduce new ESG guidelines for where they put their investments, taking into account everything from climate change to modern slavery. 

This week, specifically female-focussed fund, Verve Super revealed it would only invest in companies that showed themselves to be ahead of the curve on gender equality, suggesting workplaces could be set to become more female friendly.

Verve co-founder and chief executive Christina Hobbs told The Fifth Estate that super funds were being forced in a more ethical direction by socially-driven market demand, as well as an awareness that ethical investing can also prevent less risk in terms of returns.

However, she said so far gender equality had been relatively absent from most funds’ agendas. 

“For decades research has shown companies that promote gender equality and inclusion perform better, yet no Australian super fund has previously taken that information seriously in terms of how they invest. That’s a major missed opportunity,” Hobbs said.

To help inform their portfolio the company created a Gender Equality Investment Index based on data collected by government body, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

Companies are assessed not just on the ratio of their workforce but also gender pay parity, sexual harassment and workplace safety practices, inclusivity and flexibility, promotion of women into leadership positions and paid parental leave.

Each metric is given a similarly weighted score meaning companies must perform well across a range of areas to score highly.

Banks and financial services companies stood out on average as having the highest ranking, with Medibank Private the top rated company so far. Other high achievers included Stockland, SEEK, Suncorp and Telstra.

“Because there’s such a strong weighting of banks and financial services in terms of companies who are doing well we look at the top companies in different industry groups to make sure the portfolio’s diversified,” Hobbs said.

Companies that were in highly competitive industries in terms of attracting talent were more likely to have better codes of practice. 

“A lot of the data that WGEA collects is based on having good practices and processes in place. They’ve got some output measures, but largely it’s about practices and processes, so it tends to be those institutions that are trying to attract top talent that tend to perform well.”

“And we screen out a number of those because of their investments in fossil fuels.” 

However, Hobbs said companies that had been involved in a public scandal and appeared to have made an insufficient attempt to rectify issues within their workplace culture, for instance AMP, would be rated more poorly even if they scored well in the other metrics. 

“We have an overarching ‘scandals’ measure…if there’s a corporate scandal involving the company we look at how they respond to it and determine whether that should detract from the rest of their score”  

Prior to founding Verve, Hobbs spent close to a decade working with the United Nations, largely for the betterment of women, including female micro-finance projects in Gaza and establishing mobile banking/blockchain technology to deliver assistance to conflict and natural zones. 

She also led a one billion euro program to register 1.3 million Syrians in Turkey with the social security and banking systems to receive EU humanitarian aid, in what she described as one of the largest aid initiatives ever undertaken. 

Jobs movements

Sarah Reid will leave the City of Melbourne after nearly six years to join the Suburban Rail Loop Authority as senior sustainable development and delivery advisor.

During her time with CoM, Reid worked on Melbourne’s proposed net zero planning amendment and strategies to decarbonize existing buildings across the municipality. She also spent a stint seconded to the Victorian state government as sustainability manager for the Fishermans Bend Taskforce.

Earlier this year Reid was named among the GBCA’s Green Star Champions. At the time she said, “I’m passionate about the potential of our industry to do better, and it’s been fantastic to have been involved with so many people and projects who are striving for excellence.”

Lisa Hinde and Wing Ki Chan will join Colliers’ Real Estate Management Services team as head of sustainability and sustainability analyst, respectively. 

Having spent the five and a half years at the Green Building Council, before which she was at JLL, Hinde is globally recognised as a sustainability leader in the built environment.

Chan has an established background in property sustainability, project management and long-term assessment of building energy performance.

Meanwhile thinkstep-anz as taken on two new staff. One is sustainability guru Martin Fryer who joined the company as head of impact and strategy New Zealand. He developed the first Science Based Target in NZ (for Auckland Airport), led the TCFD reporting for Mercury Energy and is a director at EPD Australia.

Murray Hall also joined the company after more than 20 years of “quantifying the environmental footprints of sectors in the economy, including urban water, buildings, materials, food and agricultural systems and manufacturing”. He has previously worked at CSIRO for 10 years and represented Standards Australia for the development of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) international standards.

Our pick of the jobs

Mirvac is looking for a sustainability manager of reporting to join its team, helping keep the property giant on the straight and narrow in measuring and reporting its sustainability practices. 

Not just anyone can apply though, they are looking for someone with over 10 years experience in the property or sustainability sector, including time spent at an ASX listed company.

Anyone sick of the freezing weather in the southern states can try being an environmental planner for the Gold Coast Council where you will provide advice and decision making on measures to ensure the City’s natural landscape and biodiversity is protected and enhanced.

You’ll be able to take advantage of the warmer lifestyle with nine day fortnights and flexible working arrangements while building your experience in environmental planning.

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