The topic of gender diversity generated much discussion, including a big challenge from the audience, during the annual UCA Funds Management investor briefing on Tuesday.
Eager investors from as far away as Hamilton travelled to the Rydges Melbourne hotel for the first session at 11am followed by a light lunch. An evening session was also held.
Investment specialist Bridgette McDonald joined the UCA Funds Management team this year and was the only woman out of the six people on the panel.
Ms McDonald said it was great to be a part of an organisation that “walks the talk”.
UCA Funds Management was one of the first organisations in Australia to embrace the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors’ target of 30 per cent female representation on boards by 2018.
“Currently three out of nine members of the board of UCA Funds Management are women, and soon it will be four,” Ms McDonald said.
“Even now, about 7 per cent of the top Australian companies have no female representations on their boards at all and two-thirds of the top Australian companies currently fail to meet the 30 per cent women on boards threshold.”
Ms McDonald said UCA Funds Management uses its position as a shareholder to influence other companies to support greater gender representation.
“This year we have voted against some remuneration packages and against all-male directive board nominations at companies such as QBE, Westfield and G8 Education,” she said.
“Our active engagement program has resulted in direct responses from about 20 per cent of our companies acknowledging our voting policy stance and their progress towards the target.”
In Australia, it is more likely for the chief executive of the top 200 companies to be named ‘John’ than to be a woman.
An audience member observed that while the number of women on the UCA Funds Management board has increased, there is only one woman on their investment team. She challenged the organisation to have 50 per cent female representation on their investment team by next year’s briefing.
UCA Funds Management CEO Michael Walsh explained the hiring process behind staff recruitment and expressed his desire to see greater gender diversity in the team.
“We try to ensure our shortlist includes one or preferably more women with the requisite skills and backgrounds,” he said.
“We also employ an approach that has gender diversity on the selection panel.
“It is a challenge and it’s not good enough, but hopefully we’ll continue to build the female ranks within our investment and executive team over time.”
Mr Walsh also reported on the performance of the funds manager over the past 12 months, which included a $3.03 million surplus to fund the synod’s Mission Support Fund.
“Apart from our working capital requirements, all of our surplus goes into the Mission Support Fund,” Mr Walsh explained.
“Ethical investing isn’t just about excluding alcohol, tobacco and gambling and certain mining companies; it’s also about using that capital to make a difference for the benefit of society and the environment.”
Senior investment analyst Jon Fernie reviewed the ‘mixed outlook’ of the Australian economy while senior portfolio manager Noel Bryant predicted an interest rate rise next year.
Ms McDonald spoke about UCA Funds Management’s collaboration with the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit to drive positive social impact.
Throughout the past 12 months, UCA Funds Management and JIM have campaigned for restrictions to credit card gambling.
“Our Uniting Church agencies are often dealing with the direct impacts of gambling addiction, including family breakdown, financial distress, mental health issues and suicide,” Ms McDonald said.
“So we welcome the Australian Bank Association’s in-principle support for legislation to restrict credit card gambling.
“Already CityBank, American Express and Bank of Queensland have implemented restrictions. We challenge the big four banks to follow their lead.”