Use Finance to Reduce Gender-based Violence

Today is Women’s Equality Day, a day that commemorates the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. Earlier this week, I circulated a request to SGI members asking them to sign an investor letter to a company that requires employees to submit to forced arbitration in matters of workplace discrimination, harassment, and other worker complaints. As these employment agreements disproportionately have adverse effects for women and People of Color, we are asking the company if the use of forced arbitration is consistent with their commitment towards gender and racial equity.

In some respects, supporting an investor letter of that nature is consistent with our mission and automatic for SGI, so I appreciated a recent invitation to be a part of the Criterion Institute’s design sessions for a Roadmap for Christian Denominations to Use Finance to Reduce Gender-based Violence. This allowed for some greater reflection on why we take these actions and what we hope to achieve.

While I recommend that you read the Roadmap for yourself, I’d like to make three observations.

First, the document begins with “Sparking the financial imagination,” a fruitful origin that I experienced in the design sessions, embedded in an exercise with our hands that we performed as we began. A theologian from Duke Divinity School, Craig Dykstra, coined the term “pastoral imagination.” As he put it, in any profession (law, architecture, music, etc.), those particularly apt in its practice see things that most of us will miss. Dykstra also writes of ecclesial imagination: “the way of seeing and being that emerges when a community of faith, together as a community, comes increasingly to share the knowledge of God and to live a way of abundant life–not only in church but also in the many contexts in which they live their daily lives.” This roadmap aims to spark that imagination “in the many contexts in which [we] live [our] daily lives.”

Second, the roadmap address “prophetic hope.” A Biblical prophet is not one who sees the future so much as one who sees clearly what is happening here and now. A lesson in community organizing is about seeing with two eyes: one eye sees “the world as it is,” and the other sees “the world as it should be, as God made it to be.” A prophetic hope, then, is a stubborn conviction that we can live into that second world, in spite of the immediate evidence to the contrary. It took many years for women to obtain the right to vote, and obtaining the goal of eliminating gender-based violence appears to be on a distant horizon. We, as faith-based investors are called to practice this prophetic hope.

Third, I am a Catholic; so please, then, let me leverage a little Catholic guilt in a final observation about “bystanders.” Many conversations about violence typically frame the discussion in terms of “victim” and “perpetrator.” While that conversation is important, it only addresses part of the problem. A comprehensive response to gender-based violence must also address the role of collective passivity in the face of anything that dehumanizes. Given the pervasiveness of inaction, whether in the form of denial, willful ignorance, or silent complicity, we who are bystanders must be held accountable, especially those of us who occupy social positions of privilege. We can’t afford to stay on the sidelines.

I am reminded of when I heard a member of an African-American church who helped drive a bus to integrate some schools in the Boston area. Like the kids, he faced insults and potential violence regularly. When he was asked: why did you do it? He replied, “Well, I think you’re either working to make the world a better place, or you’re working to keep it the same. So I had to drive the bus.”

I hope that all of us feel similarly compelled to act, engaging all of the imagination and hope that we can muster!

Riverwater Partners Employment Clauses Engagement

By Cindy Bohlen

Chief Mindfulness Officer & Analyst, Riverwater Partners

Riverwater Partners, a Responsible Investment RIA based in Milwaukee, WI, is working in collaboration with Meredith Benton, Whistle Stop Capital, and Molly Betournay, Clean Yield Asset Management, and a few other investors, on an engagement campaign with companies to end the use of Forced Arbitration and Non-Disclosure Agreements in the context of employee harassment and discrimination claims. Riverwater chose to participate in this campaign because we believe the cost and effort to end the use of these tools is insignificant compared to the risks associated with their use, which include human capital costs, legal risk, and brand exposure.

In June, Riverwater sent letters to CEOs and Investor Relations of 24 portfolio companies highlighting said risks, stating that Attorneys General from all 50 states have signed a letter calling for the end of mandatory arbitration in sexual harassment cases, and citing examples of high-profile companies that have ended their use. As of August, we have received responses from eight companies, most indicating they do not use Forced Arbitration/Non-Disclosure Agreements at all. A few with union employees stated that negotiated contracts require certain disputes to be determined by arbitration; given that these terms are negotiated by experts on behalf of the employees, we believe this is fair. In all cases, we are encouraging companies to disclose these policies publicly, as investors have begun to focus on the issue.

Riverwater is in the process of following up with companies that have not yet responded. Our goal is to educate them regarding the risks of using Forced Arbitration and Non-Disclosure Agreements, and to encourage them to either disclose publicly if they are not using such tools, or to end use. We will consider further action, including shareholder resolution, if we deem it appropriate. We welcome participation by others who are concerned about this practice. Please feel free to contact Cindy Bohlen of Riverwater at [email protected] with interest.

Note from SGI: Efforts like this to end mandatory arbitration of sexual harassment claims help to put a stop to the culture of silence that protects perpetrators at the cost of their victims. We salute Cindy for her participation in this important work.