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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 14 August 2018

International Womens Day: the good, the bad and the boxing Barbie

A look at some of the top business stories from around the world relating to International Womens Day today

Indian women shout slogans during a march to observe International Women's Day in New Delhi, India. Manish Swarup/AP
Indian women shout slogans during a march to observe International Women's Day in New Delhi, India. Manish Swarup/AP

As people around the world mark International Womens Day, new research from Bank of America shows that investing in companies that have more women in leadership roles can help lower the volatility of your portfolio.

Firms with more gender diversity among managers have consistently seen lower share-price swings and reduced earnings volatility, the bank said in a March 7 report. They also boast of higher returns on equity, it said.

Analysing the period from 2010 to 2016, strategists including Savita Subramanian found that firms in the S&P 500 with women making up at least 25 per cent of their executives posted higher median returns on equity the following year, Bloomberg reported. This suggests gender diversity may drive returns, the strategists said.

A monitor displays a S&P 500 Index (SPX) chart on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., on Friday, March 2, 2018. U.S. stocks fell, with megacaps bearing the brunt of selling, while Treasuries slipped with the dollar as investors assessed the impact of a potential trade war. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
A monitor displays a S&P 500 Index (SPX). Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

The findings were particularly strong for technology companies, according to the note.

“While we did not find better price performance trends for companies with high environmental, social and governance (ESG) scores on gender diversity metrics, we did find these metrics to be effective signals of future price and earnings risk, as well as a signal of future returns-on-equity,” the analysts wrote. “In addition, companies with high scores on these metrics have generally been re-rating in recent years.”

The study also looked at female participation on company boards, which has been “steadily improving” over the last decade but “still has a long way to go.” Just 11 per cent of the S&P 500 have at least one-third of their board seats held by women, it said.

Having a diverse board is an important aspect of corporate governance and helps companies better represent themselves with and relate to their customers, the strategists wrote. It can come up with more diverse opinions and ideas, and better help the company compete and adapt to changes in the industry, the analysts wrote.

This could have made a big difference in industries such as retail that target mostly young women, where only 30 per cent of board members were women, according to consumer analyst Lorraine Hutchinson. Some retailers had no women at all on their boards and the overall average age of board members was 62, she found.

“Greater board diversity could have saved the industry from some of its challenges, had new views of shifting retail preferences forced boards to prioritise online spending over store expansion,” the report said.

The study comes as the female-led investor group that had agreed to buy The Weinstein Company's assets pulled its offer on Tuesday, and lead investor Maria Contreras-Sweet said the decision was made after the group "received disappointing information", according to Reuters.

FILE - In this April 7, 2014, file photo, Maria Contreras-Sweet speaks during a ceremonial swearing in as Administrator of the Small Business Administration in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington. A group of investors, led by Contreras-Sweet along with billionaire investor Ron Burkle, pulled out of a deal to buy the beleaguered Weinstein Co. on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, after discovering tens of millions of dollars in undisclosed debt, according to people familiar with the negotiations. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
Maria Contreras-Sweet. Evan Vucci/AP

Two sources familiar with the matter said the investor group ditched the offer after discovering the Hollywood studio's liabilities were higher than previously disclosed.

The Weinstein Company board said it would keep working to "determine if they are any viable options outside of bankruptcy",

Ms Contreras-Sweet, a former Obama administration official, said she still believed in the vision of a studio led by women and will consider buying assets if they become available in bankruptcy court.

More than 70 women accused The Weinstein Company co-founder Harvey Weinstein, who was one of Hollywood's most influential men, of sexual misconduct, including rape. Mr Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

The Weinstein Company, which fired Harvey Weinstein in October, had been planning to file for bankruptcy when Ms Contreras-Sweet struck the deal last week.

The investors found that the company's debt was $280 million rather than the $225m previously disclosed, one of the sources said. A second person said that there were previously undisclosed obligations for royalties and other outstanding work payments, accounts payable and a commercial arbitration award.

"After signing and entering into the confirmatory diligence phase, we have received disappointing information about the viability of completing this transaction," Ms Contreras-Sweet said.

"We will consider acquiring assets that may become available in the event of bankruptcy proceedings, as well as other opportunities that may become available in the entertainment industry," she added.

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The Weinstein Company board said the claim that investors discovered new information was an "excuse", it believed the buyer never had any intention of following through, and said the company had been transparent about its financial condition.

"We will continue to work tirelessly - as we have for months - to determine if there are any viable options outside of bankruptcy," the board said. "In the meantime, we continue to pursue an orderly bankruptcy process to maximise the company's value."

Lions Gate Entertainment had made an earlier offer for some of the company’s assets, as had film company Miramax, which was originally founded by Harvey Weinstein and his brother Bob Weinstein. Both could be among potential bidders if assets come up for sale in bankruptcy.

Representatives for Harvey Weinstein and Lions Gate did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Miramax spokeswoman had no comment.

Ms Contreras-Sweet, who headed the Small Business Administration under former President Barack Obama, last week said her investor group had reached an agreement, with help from the New York state attorney general's office, to buy assets from The Weinstein Company to launch a new firm with a majority-female board.

Launched in October 2005, the studio produced and distributed critically acclaimed hits including The King's Speech and Silver Linings Playbook, as well as TV series such as long-running fashion reality competition Project Runway.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said at the time he had received commitments that a well-funded victims compensation fund would be created, new policies would protect employees and "bad actors" would not be unjustly rewarded.

"We'll be disappointed if the parties cannot work out their differences and close the deal," Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Mr Schneiderman, said on Tuesday.

Mr Schneiderman has filed a lawsuit against the company and Bob and Harvey Weinstein, alleging that Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed employees and the company failed to respond. Bob Weinstein co-founded the company and is co-chairman. The lawsuit remains active, Ms Spitalnick said.

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2016, file photo, producer Harvey Weinstein participates in a panel at the A&E 2016 Winter TCA in Pasadena, Calif. A group of investors pulled out of a deal to buy the beleaguered Weinstein Co. on Tuesday, March 6, 2018, after discovering tens of millions of dollars in undisclosed debt, according to people familiar with the negotiations. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Harvey Weinstein. Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Separately, Wells Fargo analysts Jeffrey Donnelly and Dori Kesten said real estate is still largely a man’s world, but companies with women on the board are the ones rewarding investors. The pair examined the gender make-up of boards of 165 US real estate investment trusts from 2006 to 2017. They found that shares of REITs with a greater-than-average share of female directors outperformed REITs with all-male boards by 2.33 percentage points over five years.

While the average representation of women on REIT boards rose to 15.5 per cent from 8 per cent in the past decade, that still trails the 22 per cent average for the S&P 500, according to the study.

“Our purpose here is to shine a spotlight on board diversity in real estate and highlight that the performance benefits of inclusion found in companies globally, applies to real estate companies domestically,” the analysts wrote.

REITs focused on prisons, advertising and energy infrastructure have the highest female representation, while trusts in the industrial, single-family housing and healthcare sectors are the worst offenders when it comes to gender diversity, the study found. Timber and data-centre REITs have a lower percentage of women on their boards today than they did in 2006.

Their findings came as American Express said will disclose data on its gender pay gap by the end of the year, according to a shareholder activist that’s been pushing Wall Street to release the information.

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The credit-card company pledged to report to shareholders by the end of 2018 any findings on pay disparities, Arjuna Capital said Wednesday. New York-based AmEx said in a memo to employees that it regularly reviews pay policies to make sure they support pay equality and transparency.

“Based on the most recent comprehensive pay analysis we conducted with a third-party consulting firm, we are confident that our colleagues are compensated equitably, regardless of gender,” the company said. “The review found no evidence of bias in our compensation processes and indicated we were effectively at parity.”

AmEx’s decision, which came after pressure from Arjuna, follows similar moves by MasterCard and most of the biggest US banks. All of them reported that women and men were paid substantially the same amount, but none of the companies said how they calculated the figures and all were adjusted for factors such as seniority and job role.

JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of New York Mellon, Wells Fargo and Bank of America all have said this year that they paid women about 99 per cent of what men earn.

A sign of JP Morgan Chase Bank is seen in front of their headquarters tower in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Alfiky
JPMorgan headquarters tower in Manhattan, New York. Amr Alfiky/Reuters

Women make up 50 per cent of American Express’s work force and only 30 per cent of managers, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The US gender pay gap has been stuck at around 20 per cent for the past decade, according to the National Women’s Law Centre.

Women are still 20 per cent more likely to leave a career in finance than any other industry - that’s bad for business and it’s bad for investors,” said Arjuna Capital managing partner Natasha Lamb, who filed a shareholder proposal seeking the pay disclosure at American Express and eight other companies this year. Calling equal pay “a critical first step” to retaining top talent, Arjuna withdrew its proposal in response to AmEx’s pledge.

In her withdrawal letter, Ms Lamb said AmEx’s review will include base, bonus and equity compensation, and the company will adjust pay to get to 100 per cent equality. It will also disclose its methodology, she said.

While some analysts have questioned banks’ assertions about a 1 per cent pay gap, “these companies along with a handful of tech and consumer firms, are at the leading edge" in US gender pay equity, Ms Lamb said.

“With assurances that women will be paid fairly, we can focus more confidently on the next step: moving womeninto higher paying leadership positions,” she said in an email.

In Europe, meanwhile, French companies will have three years to erase their gender pay gaps or face possible fines under plans presented by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday to unions and employers.

Men are on average paid nine per cent more than women in France even though the law has required equal pay for the same work for the past 45 years, the government said.

Companies with more than 50 employees will be required to install special software hooked up directly to their payroll systems to monitor unjustified pay gaps under the plans.

The aim was to roll out the software in companies with more than 250 employees next year and in 2020 for firms with between 50 and 249 workers.

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If a company fails to erase a pay gap detected by the software over three years, labour inspectors could impose a fine of up to 1 per cent of the firm's wage bill.

The government aims to iron out the details in the coming month with employers, unions and experts and include the plans in a broader labour reform package to be presented to parliament next month.

That comes as UK politicians are demanding law and accounting firms revise figures on how male and female staff are remunerated amid criticism that their partnership structures let them understate the gender pay gap.

British companies with more than 250 employees have until April 4 to provide authorities with data on how they pay staff. Among those to report so far, professional-services companies including Linklaters and EY have shown much narrower gender gaps than banks, such as Barclays, according to Reuters. But that’s partly because those firms class their top-earning partners as owners rather than employees, enabling them to be excluded from the figures.

“These firms appear to be abiding by the letter of the law, but not the spirit,” said Nicky Morgan, a policymaker from the governing Conservative Party who chairs the UK’s treasury committee. “They’re taking advantage of an apparent loophole. Partners are leaders and role models in their firms. They should know better than to exclude themselves.”

Nicky Morgan, U.K. treasury committee chair and Conservative Party lawmaker, speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview in London, U.K., on Tuesday, March 6, 2018. Morgan discussed Brexit negotiations over a customs union and hard border with Ireland. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg
Nicky Morgan, UK treasury committee chair and Conservative Party policymaker: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which operates at arm’s length from the government, has the discretion to punish employers that don’t comply with the data requirements. Dawn Butler, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow minister for women and equalities, said professional firms should face sanctions if they don’t resubmit figures more in line with the spirit of the law.

"The distinction between partners and other lawyers is an irrelevant distinction for these purposes,” said Shami Chakrabarti, the opposition Labour Party’s shadow attorney general. “The bottom line is that people are being remunerated for the same work at different levels on account of their gender.”

Spokesmen for EY and Linklaters declined to comment. A spokesman for Pinsent Masons wasn’t immediately available.

Asked if it was concerned about the professional firms’ figures, the EHRC issued a statement saying it had “mechanisms in place to identify questionable data,” without commenting specifically on the figures it had received.

Law firms Linklaters and Pinsent Masons have reported that female employees earn 23 per cent and 22 per cent less on average, respectively, than their male colleagues. The gap at EY is 20 per cent. That’s less than half as wide as the figure reported by Barclays for its corporate and investment bank, which indicates female staff were paid an average of 48 per cent less than male employees.

Jayne-Anne Gadhia, the chief executive of Virgin Money who has led a government review of women in finance, told Bloomberg News that excluding of high-earning professional partners from the data is "outrageous." Her company posted a 33 per cent gender pay gap, which Ms Gadhia said needs to improve.

This is the first year that British companies have been required to submit the data. Charles Cotton, an adviser on compensation policy at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, said companies will likely be called on to report data on the age and ethnicity of their staff in future.

“Most businesses will have wanted to make sure they are compliant with the law, but we can already see the Government Equalities Office refining their guidance for best practice,” said Christina Blacklaws, vice-president of Britain’s Law Society.

A Home Office official said the UK is one of the first countries to require all large employers to publish their gender gap and bonus data.

Partners and Limited Liability Partnership “members are likely to meet the definition of employees, but are not counted for the actual gender pay calculations,” the official said. “This is because their pay is based on profit sharing, which cannot readily be compared with regular pay.”

The politicians' demands comes amid revelations that Deloitte’s UK division pays its female staff 43.2 per cent less on average than male employees - one of the wider gender gaps reported so far, but also one that included the high-earning partners that similarly structured firms have been excluding from their data.

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Deloitte "listened to the calls for firms such as ours to do more in how we report gender pay data", David Sproul, the firm’s senior UK executive, said on Wednesday. "We are firmly committed to transparency and achieving consistency in gender pay reporting standards."

Barclays said its corporate and investment bank paid female staff an average of 48 per cent less than male employees.

“These calculations again serve as a stark reminder that we don’t have enough women in senior roles – this is not about unequal pay, but the shape of our firm,” said Emma Codd, managing partner for talent at Deloitte UK.

In India, meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Motors is among the companies making significant headway in gender equality. The firm had just about 200 women on the shop floor three years ago. Now, it has 10 times that number and is looking to hire more.

Indian women shout slogans during a march to observe International Women's Day in New Delhi, India. Manish Swarup/AP
Indian women shout slogans during a march to observe International Women's Day in New Delhi, India. Manish Swarup/AP

In socially conservative India, that may be a tall order. Better educated women from wealthier families aren’t encouraged to work and it’s usually when a man’s salary falls short that women seek jobs. Many drop out to take care of children and older family members, shrinking the share of women in the workforce to around 24 per cent in 2015-2016 from 36 per cent a decade earlier, according to government data.

The cost of going backward is real for India: Asia’s third-largest economy would see GDP increase 27 per cent if it were able to boost female workforce participation to the levels seen for men, IMF Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde has said. For Tata Motors, the benefits are already apparent.

epa06529070 Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Money Fund (IMF) attends 'Transforming France's Economy and completing the Integration of the Euro Zone' conference at Bercy Finance Ministry in Paris, France, 15 February 2018.  EPA/YOAN VALAT
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF. Yoan Valat/EPA

“What we also found was besides discipline, productivity, safety and quality of work were outstanding with the women workforce on the shop floor, putting pressure to recruit more such people,” said Gajendra Chandel, chief human resource officer at Tata Motors. “We have set a target of 25 per cent for all future hiring.”

Still, boosting the share of women in the workforce is a challenge, particularly for companies such as Tata Motors.

Women make up just 18 per cent of those employed in manufacturing and construction, well behind the 22 per cent in services and the 60 per cent in farming, according to the World Bank. Those figures broadly match a recent survey by the Swedish Consulate that showed participation by women in manufacturing in India was between 3 per cent and 12 per cent.

Tata Motors has started by setting an internal target of ensuring a third of workers on the shop floor are women and Chandel expects to progressively move their share of all employees up to 25 per cent from 5 per cent now.

Government policies are also forcing companies to create a more women-friendly environment. India recently instituted paid maternity leave of 26 weeks and also requires larger companies to offer convenient childcare facilities.

In this year’s Economic survey, the government’s Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian pointed to a greater need for jobs that women say they prefer - regular, part-time employment that provides steady income and allows them to reconcile household duties. Just as India committed to improving its ranking on ease of doing business indicators, the nation “should perhaps do so on gender outcomes as well,” he wrote.

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“India stands the risk of losing out if women’s participation levels keep falling," said Priyanka Kishore, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics in Singapore. "Socio-cultural issues inhibit female participation in the labour force. So, enabling conditions like safety, better childcare, more maternity leave will help in retaining women.”

On a lighter note, a Barbie doll in the likeness of British Olympic boxing champion Nicola Adams, complete with "boxing gloves to shatter any glass ceiling", has been unveiled to mark International Women's Day.

Toy maker Mattel, whose Barbie dolls have in the past drawn criticism for promoting harmful stereotypes, said on Tuesday it hoped the Adams doll would inspire girls to achieve greatness.

The doll is among 14 new Barbies honouring "boundary-breaking women" around the world to show the next generation they can be anything they want to be, Mattel said.

Others in its "Sheroes" series include American snowboarder Chloe Kim, who won gold at this year's Winter Olympics, Chinese prima ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and French chef Helene Darroze.

Adams said her doll was "cool" and hoped it would inspire young girls to go for their dreams, according to Reuters.

"Without my own role models, I wouldn't be where I am today," she said.

"Growing up, my biggest role models were my mum and Muhammad Ali - there were no female boxers in [the] media when I was a kid, and I might have discovered my passion sooner if I'd seen other women boxing."

The doll features Adams' distinctive hairstyle and sports boxing gear emblazoned with her trademark "Lioness" nickname.

However, the doll's body type appears to reflect Barbie's super-slim silhouette more than Adams' muscular physique.

The doll is not available for sale, and Mattel could not say whether it would go into production.

Several previous Sheroes, including African-American ballerina Misty Copeland and American fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad - the first hijab-wearing Barbie - have gone into production.

Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad holds a Barbie doll made in her likeness as she attends the 2017 Glamour Women of the Year Awards at the Kings Theater in Brooklyn, New York, U.S., November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad holds a Barbie doll made in her likeness. /Andrew Kelly/Reuters

Lisa McKnight, Barbie general manager, said the company had chosen to honour the role models "because we know that you can't be what you can't see".

"Girls have always been able to play out different roles and careers with Barbie, and we are thrilled to shine a light on real-life role models to remind them that they can be anything."

Other dolls being launched for International Women's Day on Thursday include a German entrepreneur and a Polish journalist.

Parents and feminists have long criticised the traditional Barbie doll, with its impossibly busty and narrow-waisted physique, for setting an unrealistic body image for girls.

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Mattel released new bodytypes in 2016 - petite, tall and curvy - as well as a range of skintones.

A spokeswoman said the Adams doll had been designed in close collaboration with the boxer's team.

Mattel also announced on Tuesday the launch of a series of historical dolls that come with educational information.

The first three "Inspiring Women" are Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, US aviator Amelia Earhart, and mathematician Katherine Johnson, who worked on the US space programme.

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