Reflections from Career Investor Amy Domini

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the April 2015 issue of Green Money Journal on “Women and Investing.” Read more excerpts here

AmyDomini-photo1 By Amy Domini

“Women and Investing.” The feminist in me is struggling. The suggestion of a special category implies a difference, and a difference, when it comes to women, tends to mean a weakness. Women and the sciences, women and sports, the debates about women’s powers make me, as a woman, uncomfortable. But then I review my own story.

I manage assets for people who are interested in socially responsible investing. Over 60 percent of the money I manage belongs to women. I also run a socially responsible mutual fund. It has 55 percent female investors, while the average mutual fund is 45 percent. Women have a special connection to socially responsible investing.

There are two approaches to the topic of women and investing. One involves women managing investments for others. The second involves women with money to invest. Certainly the field of socially responsible investing has many women in leadership roles, and the clients we serve include many practical and idealistic women. Is the female investor different? If so, how and why?

I looked to my own career path for clues.

I entered the field of finance during the mid-1970s, when women were clearly anomalies. There had been a feminist revolution during the preceding decade but it was our mothers who read all those books and felt the seismic shift that was beginning. We had more of a flower-child mentality. I floated through early life without the slightest ambition. My job as a photocopy clerk in a stock brokerage firm was just a job, not a career. When, after a couple of years with the firm, I became registered to sell securities, I did so for the raise, not the responsibility. When, four years later, I was introduced to a client as the firm’s first female stockbroker, I was surprised. It hadn’t occurred to me before. I did not self-identify as a woman, but as part of the team.

The initial years were tough. I had two babies and worked though the pregnancies in offices filled with cigar smoke. I took a week or two for maternity leave (three weeks was considered long then). But I’d been brought up hearing, “Never mind all that, just pull up your socks and keep marching.” It didn’t occur to me that there might be a different way. Plus, I had passion; I wanted the world to understand something I had figured out: The way you invest matters. Investors can demand disclosure and better reporting from the companies they own. Clients do not need to sully their hearts by investing in filth.

In those early days I saw many women do amazing things. Joan Bavaria launched Trillium Asset Management to manage money responsibly. Joan Shapiro, who worked at the South Shore Bank of Chicago, showed the difference that a caring bank could make to a community. Alice Tepper-Marlin, whose Council on Economic Priorities tracked corporate spending on elections, helped us understand the many ways that corporations affect our daily lives. Medical Mission Sister Regina Rowan, an activist shareholder, was famous for having a seat in the front row at Merck’s annual meeting. Each year she rose to ask the company to again pledge $100 million worth of Ivermectin to the poor, thereby reducing the scourge of river blindness. There were men too, important leaders, but the women made it more appealing to me than my male-dominated experience in the brokerage firm did.

I joined the Loring, Wolcott & Coolidge Office in 1987, where I founded the practice now called the Sustainability Group. With my partners’ permission, I also founded Domini & Company — which became KLD Research and Analytics — and the Domini Social Index Trust, which became Domini Social Investments. I worked very hard, but I cared so deeply about moving the field forward that it was thrilling.

In terms of being successful as a money manager, there are two important elements. One is the ability to attract and maintain clients. The other is the ability to pick investments that outperform the market. The rules are clear, so a pure meritocracy should exist. That it does not is due to other factors, because on the two criteria that matter, women compete well.

Thinking it through, it was my field, socially responsible investing, that proved me as a money manager. I believe completely in the importance of the field and feel such pride when we have small wins, that my work was never a job so much as an identity. I loved helping people figure out how important socially responsible investing is, and thus I gathered many clients quickly. I also loved learning about companies and what makes them great, which helped my investments work out.

But what about the other side of women and investing — the client side? Last year Wells Fargo issued a study on affluent women and their investment habits. Like other studies, it points out that women are reluctant to manage their assets, even women who have successful careers. In this study, it was found that among affluent women, only 43 percent of single women and 34 percent of married women manage the investments the household makes.

This reluctance to be the investor, in my experience, leads to careful review before taking steps. Women study what investing is before they make a move. They read Internet stories and ask friends. Eventually, they learn about investing with purpose, in the triple bottom line of people, planet and profits.

See Amy’s complete article here.

Article by Amy Domini, partner in The Sustainability Group in Boston where she manages roughly $1.1 billion in liquid assets for high net worth families. Additionally she is the founder of Domini Social Investments (www.domini.com), a New York City based mutual fund family with $1.6 billion under management. She is widely recognized as the leading voice for socially responsible investing. In 2005 she was named to the Time magazine 100 list of the world’s most influential people, and in 2009 Time listed her as one of 25 “Responsibility Pioneers”. In 2005, President Clinton honored her at the inaugural meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative.

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