Originally appeared in Greenmoney February 2021 Issue
The road less traveled has always been the path I’ve found myself on in life, whether intentionally or not. As a young girl, I did not grow up believing that I would have a career in finance. I was beguiled by misconceptions that the field was too difficult and the bar for entry too insurmountably high. Even more daunting was the lack of representation of women within the financial sector.
Prior to the onset of my professional career, I chose to attend the University of St. Andrews, a Scottish university located in a small town nestled on the North Sea. I found myself in a new culture, surrounded by people from different backgrounds with fresh points of view. While the rigorous academics and people I met at St. Andrews greatly shaped both my personal and professional trajectory, I did not pursue a ‘classically finance-oriented’ degree, majoring instead in International Relations. Through this area of study, I followed my interests in political theories, governing bodies, and matters of foreign policy. In my senior dissertation, I dug deeper into the structural inequities that result from these systems and the implications for marginalized populations in Latin America. From this vantage point, I began my career in finance. Somewhat accidently, I stumbled into the realm of impact investing, but was ultimately compelled by the principles of this investment thesis.
I was fortunate enough to find my way to Domini Impact Investments, an SEC-registered investment advisor with an exclusive focus on impact investing. Domini is a women-led and founded firm, often seen as a rarity in the mutual fund world. In fact, as of the close of 2020, the firm was made up of over 60 percent women. This representation includes four of the top six executives, with our CEO and Chair also listed as the named co-portfolio managers on a number of our products. While a women-led environment has shaped my personal experience in the sector, it’s far from the norm.
In a 2020 article, Morningstar reported that the representation of women among fund managers globally has stayed largely stagnant over the course of the last twenty years, stating:
“At the end of 2000, 14 percent of fund managers were women. At the end of 2019, 14 percent of fund managers were women”.
Statistics such as Morningstar’s serve as cogent reminder that financial firms like Domini remain rare enclaves of change within an industry with much progress still to make. With that said, there are signals of coming growth and evolution. With investors calling for greater diversity and inclusion, I believe that we will soon see a systemic shift of women in leadership positions at financial institutions. As a young woman in finance, I am energized to be a part of a financial firm that positions women within roles of executive leadership.
In my capacity leading the firm’s Institutional Client Relationships team, I’ve had the opportunity to serve and interact across our institutional client and intermediary channels. In working closely with such financial professionals and sharing the advantages that impact investing can have on our portfolios, planet and society, I find great purpose in my role and hope my efforts contribute to pushing the field forward. The entities we work with range across a wide spectrum – many at the initial precipice of their search, just beginning to integrate ESG & impact strategies into their client offerings. Others have dedicated long-term efforts to building renowned in-house impact institutions. But across this spectrum of impact integration is the resounding client encouragement to align their portfolios with their own personal values and contemporary issues of interest.
With the allocation of capital increasingly deployed into the purview of millennials, this sentiment will continue to expand. Morgan Stanley’s Institute for Sustainable Investing reported in 2019 that of the millennials polled, 95 percent were interested in sustainable investing.1 Millennial investors are clearly interested in the impact of their investments, both positive and negative. This may be due to a myriad of contributing factors, but I would be remiss not to broach the current state of our world.
As a millennial myself, I find my generation faced with the challenge of tackling humankind’s greatest existential crisis: climate change. Growing up under the specter of a rapidly warming planet, our generation has decided that the cost of chasing unlimited profit may not be worth the payoff and the corresponding destructive social or environmental consequences. But this does not need to be a zero-sum game, and the lens of investing has broadened so that positive social and environmental outcomes can be coupled with lucrative returns. 2020 has resolutely cracked any assumptions that our hyper globalized, interdependent world was too big or too complex to break. As a generation that came of age during the 2008 financial crisis, millennial adults learned young the lesson that unfettered markets and limitless growth are not poised for lasting success. We as investors in an interconnected global society need to consider the long-term ramifications of our investment decisions, not just the short-term payoff.
In asking for greater disclosure, reporting and transparency from their investments, millennials are congruently considering these same metrics and integration from their investment managers to ensure more intentional impact. With rising interest in diversity and inclusion both concerning their investments and the individuals managing their portfolios, younger generations will have the ability to shape the faces of the financial sector. With this generational shift well on its way, maybe one day young women aspiring to be fund managers will not be viewed as taking the road less traveled.
Article by Elizabeth di Bonaventura, Senior Institutional Relationship Associate, Domini Impact Investments. She leads the firm’s institutional client relationships team and serves as its primary point of contact for all financial professionals. In 2019, Elizabeth was named to the inaugural SRI Conference “30 Under 30” list. She holds a Scottish Master of Arts (Honours) in International Relations from The University of St. Andrews.
Footnote:  2019. Morgan Stanley, Institute for Sustainable Investing. “Sustainable Signals: Individual Investor Interest Driven by Impact, Conviction and Choice”.
DSIL Investment Services 02/21