Women Leading the Way in Sustainable Investments

iStock_000001735577XSmall[1]by Liz O’Donnell (Boston)

Green mutual funds might seem like the hottest new trends on Wall Street but women in this industry are adamant that green investing is not a passing fad. According to the Social Investment Forum, an association of socially responsible investing firms and professionals, socially responsible investing represents an estimated $2.71 trillion. From 2005 to 2007, this segment of the market grew at a rate of 18 percent.

“Green business is not a trend,” says Vicki Radden, Managing Director of the Capital Markets Partnership. “It’s a new way of approaching business that is not an option. It is a requirement.” The Capital Markets Partnership (“CMP”) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit coalition of investors, investment banks, insurers, city, state and federal government, countries, and NGOs creating a market shift toward sustainable investment. Says Radden, “The Capital Market Partnership provides advocacy for various financial products and pushes forward the agenda within the capital markets to drive financial entities to develop, support, invest and promote.”

Radden likens the so-called trend in sustainable investing to the dot com era in the early nineties. Back then, companies viewed adding a dot com to their names and creating an Internet presence as a “hot” idea and key differentiator. However, a few years later, it was standard operating procedure; a requirement for doing business.

Why Women are Making Waves in the Sustainability Market

And regarding this new segment of the fund market, Radden thinks women are particularly well-suited. “The folks I’m bringing to the table now are women,” she says. “All of them are willing to step to the table because they believe in the vision and they are willing to take that risk.”

Radden says a financial career in sustainability is still viewed as a less traditional, more risky career move. And women, she says, are risk takers. “If I wasn’t willing to take on the projects that others wouldn’t – the low probability orphans or the high visibility for failure projects,” she says. “Well, you can’t stay comfortable in the shadows and be able to move up.”

“This segment requires you bring a lot of skills to the table,” adds Radden. “You need to understand the financial aspect, technology, politics, legislation and you’ve got to understand the global impact. You need to be multifaceted and, in my experience, women do that really well. Women are phenomenal managers.”

Sentinel Investments, a Vermont-based mutual fund company that is committed to practicing business with integrity, and doing what is best for both its clients and its employees, tapped one of its top women at the firm, Executive Vice President, Clara Sierra, to head its sustainable investing practice.

Erin Gray of Green Century Capital Management, Inc. is another good example of the opportunities available to women in the green fund market. Green Century Capital Management was founded in 1991 and administers the Green Century Funds, a family of environmentally responsible mutual funds. It was founded by non-profit environmental advocacy organizations and is wholly owned by non-profit advocacy groups.

Says Gray, “This type of investing values women in its underlying principals. It values a different, diverse work force. It values differences of opinions. It is opening up to new markets and fund managers are looking for diverse boards and management teams. So, the type of investing we’re doing makes it open to women.”

Gray recounts a recent industry meeting where “there was some talk of Mother Earth and the idea that the earth nurtures our whole system – that all of our economic principles have to be subsumed to what our planet can sustain. Just the whole idea of femininity and nurturing doesn’t always find a voice in financial services.”

Gray, who started out working in public accounting and then pursued an MBA in environmental management, sees opportunities for other women. “Growth has flattened out recently,” she says. “Some firms are downsizing and others are growing faster.” Still, she says sustainable investing is becoming more mainstream.

“Find a place where your values match up with what the companies are doing,” she advises women looking to enter this segment of the market.