The UN Pension Fund is a member of the UN family, but also part of the finance industry, traditionally male dominated. What is this institution doing to address gender equality, with its USD 80 billion+ portfolio, managing future and current pensions for more than 220,000 staff and retirees around the world?
Leveraging the Fund’s portfolio
“We want to push for gender equality in the companies we invest, through engagement as a shareholder” Mr. Guazo, Representative of the Secretary-General for the Assets of the UN Pension Fund, underlines, ”and we can already see that we are making a difference.” In the direct equity portfolio, the percentage of women on the board of the companies in which the Fund invests has increased by over six points between 2019 and 2022 (from 25.4 per cent to 31.2 per cent).
Gender diversity has been a key topic for the Office of Investment Management (OIM) in terms of engagement with companies. In 2022 alone, OIM engaged with more than sixty companies on gender.
A technological divide between retired men and women?
Ms. Rosemarie McClean, Chief Executive of Pension Administration, explains that she has recently realized that “there is a gender gap between men and women in the retiree and beneficiary population the Fund serves when it comes to digital solutions.”
Ms. McClean has been promoting digitalization and modernization at the Fund since her arrival at the Fund in 2020. One of the Fund’s flagship initiatives in this area is the digital certificate of entitlement (DCE), an app which is an option available for retirees and beneficiaries that have to send a proof of live annually.
According to a recent internal study, “less retired women use the DCE app than men, whatever their age range, and we have to understand why,” Ms. McClean explains. “This should not be the case, because there are more women than men in our retiree/beneficiary population.”
“This is food for thought as this year’s International Women’s Day is focused on innovation and technological change. I certainly want to bridge this “gender-digital” gap that we have just identified within our beneficiary population” Ms. McClean stresses, adding the Fund will examine how to improve its communication or features of the app to make it more appealable to women.
Gender equality inside the Fund
Miharu Goto, Chief of the Enterprise Applications Section, remembers about the past decades: “I started my career for a Japanese financial company and an American Investment bank about 30 years ago. Both, in those days were male-oriented and chauvinistic. When I joined the UN Pension Fund in 1993, it was not an exception.”
“Since then, the Fund, following the UN path, has made significant progress in promoting gender equality, women’s empowerment, reducing power/sexual harassment, supporting flexible work arrangements, and encouraging work-life balance. I feel the current workplace is far better than what I used to know,” she adds.
Anastasia Rotheroe, Director of Public Equities, Office of Investment Management, shares a similar experience: “I've been at the Fund for 20 years. Prior to that, I worked for Wall Street bankers. There were no women there, so it was a breath of fresh air to come to the Fund. When I joined OIM, we were a very small team. We grew over time and being on recruitment panels gave us the opportunity to help recruit more women staff. This has been a plus about being a focal point for women at the Fund.”
Still, Ms. McClean, notes “in its 72 years of existence, the Fund had only two females in top or CEO positions apart from me, and only for short periods of time. We have more female than male staff in the Fund. We still have work to do to reach gender parity at the senior and middle management levels.”
“We have made great progress in the past years” says Mr. Pedro Guazo, “and we must set an example for the industry” adds Mr. Guazo, stressing that at U.S. financial services firms, women accounted for just under 22 percent of leadership roles in 2019. At the Fund, the proportion of female staff in the Professional category reached 44% as at 31 December 2022.
Both leaders of the Fund have pushed for the Fund to adopt a gender strategy in 2021 to promote gender-responsive policies and practices and to integrate gender perspectives into all areas of work. A network of Women Focal Points has assisted in making the Fund a better place for women, but not only.
“I may say that the Fund is not only a better place for women to work, but also for men…” states Sonia Beharovic, Human Resources Team Lead and nominee for the 2022 Secretary-General awards in the category “Collegiality”.
If you want to read more testimonies from female colleagues working for the Fund, check our LinkedIn posts.
 ‘Mediocre’ men get ahead in finance more easily, say women in the industry, the New York Times, 17 June 2021