International Women’s Day: our five favourite female CEOs

Sam Slator 05/03/20 in Strategy

8 March is International Women’s Day. This year, the theme is gender equality, within this diversity in the workplace.

Diversity has actually been a focus for businesses and professional investors for nearly a decade: the 30% Club was launched in the UK in 2010, for example, and its extended target of a minimum of 30% women on FTSE 350 boards by 2020, was reached in September 2019.

EdenTree, whose CEO and co-manager of the EdenTree Amity UK fund is Sue Round, has had gender diversity at the heart of its engagement strategy for some time. Her colleague, Neville White, explained: “We’re really passionate about businesses empowering women, not only onto boards, but through their executive and talent pipeline. We’ve engaged really extensively with a lot of companies, particularly in the mid-cap space where they tend to be laggards on board diversity, to ensure that voice is being heard and women have opportunities.”

In France, the figure is even higher, with women now representing 41.4% of directors on the CAC40 (similar to our FTSE 100 index), but other countries are lagging: in the US the figure is just 26.1% on the S&P100, while Japan’s Tokyo Stock Exchange has just 10% representation*.

Japan’s Womenomics

As Chisako Hardie, manager of AXA Framlington Japan fund, told us in her podcast last year: “Japanese women are well educated – about 58% of Japanese women go to University, but not many women have an important positions in businesses. That’s a waste.”

But action is being taken. For example, Japan’s aging population means that the workforce is shrinking, and one of Prime Minister Abe’s structural reforms is a focus encouraging the participation and advancement of women in the Japanese workforce, thus closing Japan’s large gender gap and growing demographic deficit – or ‘Womenomics’ as it was called.

Richard Kaye, co-manager of Comgest Growth Japan, added: “Japan is a nation with no natural resources – at least none they can dig out of the ground. But they have one enormous resource that they’ve never tapped into until a few years ago, and that is women who are enormously well educated. And many of them have not participated in the workforce for decades. That is changing now. It’s one of the many fascinating dynamics with Japan.”

In his podcast last week, Richard told us about a company they invest in that is taking advantage of this change:

“Persol, the personnel recruitment company, was founded by a lady with a specific aim of bringing women into the workforce in Japan. The lady’s name is Yoshiko Shinohara, and she is still chairman of the company. It has been instrumental in making the Japanese female representation in the workforce higher than in America.”

Four more favourite women CEOs

At FundCalibre’s speed-interview event last month, we touched on the subject of lady CEOs, asking four female fund managers which businesses they invest in that are run by women.


Lucy Isles, co-manager of Baillie Gifford High Yield Bond fund: “Empark is one of our holdings. It’s an Iberian car park operator run by Jo Copper, who came from NCP car parks.

“It’s a resilient business and a money maker. It is investing in digitalisation and technology, which, when you have scale, can really make a difference. Customer experience is key and this company focuses on making it as good an experience as possible for people when they park. Jo made it interesting to analyse a car parking company – that’s no mean feat!”


Abby Glennie, deputy head of ASI smaller companies team: “Trainline is a holding in our Global Smaller Companies fund. Its CEO is Clare Gilmartin and it’s the leading independent rail and coach travel platform in the UK. It also operates in many other countries.

“The company IPO’d last year and has done very well. Clare is a brilliant CEO and has led the business through a period of rapid growth, investing more in mobile and AI innovation. She has also been a finalist in Veuve Cliquot’s Businesswoman of the Year.”

Hear more about this company in Kirsty Desson’s podcast – the new co-manager of ASI Global Smaller Companies.


Deidre Cooper, co-manager of Investec Global Environment: “Novosyms is a Danish company – a world leader in enzyme technology – that has recently appointed Ester Baiget as its CEO.

“Enzymes are used in multiple applications, for example, non-biological washing powder. The enzymes in this allow you to run a washing machine at a lower temperature, but still clean well. Novosyms is currently rolling out a new product that will allow you to wash dirty sports gear at a lower temperature, but still get rid of the nasty smell!”

Team 17

Alexandra Jackson, Rathbone Unit Trust Management: “Team 17 is a video game company run by Debbie Bestwick. She is a great CEO and a proper gaming nerd. The company floated in May 2018. It publishes good games and Debbie is very good at guiding the market and exceeding expectations – which she manages carefully. She is also good at managing the back catalogue of games and creating new ones.”


*Source: EdenTree RI Expert Briefing, Gender Diversity, 4 December 2018

The views of the author and any people interviewed are their own and do not constitute financial advice. However the knowledge that professional analysts have analysed a fund or trust in depth before assigning them a rating can be a valuable additional filter for anyone looking to make their own decisions. Before you make any investment decision make sure you’re comfortable and fully understand the risks. If you invest in fund or trust make sure you know what specific risks they’re exposed to. Past performance is not a reliable guide to future returns. Remember all investments can fall in value as well as rise, so you could make a loss.