A female focus: investing in companies that let women lead.

Author:Fried, Rona
Position:GREEN LIVING: MONEY MATTERS - Women's equity fund, pax world mutual funds
 
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One of the great things about investing in socially responsible mutual funds is that you can specifically target issues that concern you personally. The Women's Equity Fund (Ticker: PXWEX) searches for companies that excel in gender equality and women's empowerment. But that's not all it does: The fund also invests in successful companies that are social and environmental leaders, and screens out companies with significant holdings in tobacco, alcohol, gambling and weapons manufacture.

Historian David Landes, author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, says, "The best clue to a nation's growth and development potential is the status and role of women."

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Pax World Mutual Funds, which owns the Women's Equity Fund, believes that companies with progressive policies toward women will have better financial success. A Catalyst study backs it up: Over time, companies with the highest number of women on their boards outperformed those with the lowest number of women. The Fund, which gets high ratings from Mor-ningstar and Lipper, invests in companies of all sizes and can invest up to 45 percent of the portfolio outside the U.S. It chooses companies that take affirmative steps to attract, retain and promote women, and to advance gender equity in society in general. It also invests in women-owned businesses and puts up to five percent of its assets into Third World microfinance initiatives which loan women money to start their own businesses.

When making its analysis, the Fund asks: Does the company have women on the board and if so, how many? Does it promote women to top executive positions and compensate them accordingly? Are there career development and training programs for female employees? Are there programs that help women balance career and personal life such as daycare? Are there policies that encourage women-owned companies as suppliers?

Some companies certainly stand out, though not all are green. "Nord-strom is unique among retailers," says Portfolio Manager Sujatha Avutu. "Women not only make up a third of its nine-member board and six of its 20 top executives, but the company has a supplier diversity program that works to increase the amount of business it does with women-owned firms. It also offers 84 days of family and medical leave--well in excess of the 12 weeks of unpaid leave required by federal labor laws."

In the energy sector, Avutu singles out BP, a third of whose board and executive management is female...

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