The need for more women in high-ranking corporate positions is hardly a new discussion. Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) COO Sheryl Sandberg has been urging women to “lean in” lately, while numerous studies assert that having more women at the top is better for business.
And if all that were true, it would make sense to invest in women-led companies … right?
In a report last summer, Credit Suisse found that companies with “at least some” women on their boards enjoyed better stock performance over a six-year period than those with none. Hardly conclusive, but it’s a start.
For instance, female CEOs Marissa Mayer and Meg Whitman — who I previously criticized for accepting jobs at struggling tech dinosaurs — have nice recent gains on their resumes. Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE:HPQ) have soared a respective 40% and 30% in the past six months. The broader (and mostly male) S&P 500 only gained 7%.
Granted, correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation … but even Morgan Stanley is taking such outpeformance to heart. Its wealth management division is starting a portfolio of “companies that have demonstrated a commitment to including women on their corporate boards,” according to DealBook.
One-Year Return: 8%
It admittedly seems a bit stereotypical to use a female-focused clothing company to start off the gallery, but you don’t wanna mess with these businesswomen.
Ann Inc.‘s (NYSE:ANN) 20,000 workers are 93% female, including four of the board’s 10 members and head honcho Katherine Lawther Krill herself. In fact, Krill launched Ann’s store LOFT — now a billion-dollar business — the same year she gave birth to triplets. Talk about “having it all.”
Ann’s stock has been struggling a bit lately, just recently regaining ground from a brutal five-month slide. But a difficult holiday season and Hurricane Sandy were two of the problems, so the worst might be over. Otherwise, ANN has climbed pretty steadily since the depths of the recession.
Plus, as the economy continues to gain momentum, it’s likely that spending at Ann — which specializes, once again, in work apparel — will follow. And thanks to its recent woes, the stock is a bargain at only 11 times forward earnings.
One-Year Return: 24%
Consumer staples giant General Mills (NYSE:GIS) is headed by CEO Ken Powell, but plenty of women are helping hold down the fort, including 37% of senior managers and three out of 14 board members — far more than most.
Thus far in 2013, the stock has soared 18% — more than doubling the broader market and bringing 12-month gains to 24%. General Mills also just handily beat profit forecasts for the most recent quarter and raised its full-year outlook, even in the face of higher input costs.
That’s impressive … and especially nice considering that General Mills also rewards shareholders with a quarterly dividend. The company has been writing checks regularly for 113 straight years, while also consistently raising it, including 8% bumps in 2011 and 2012. The current 33-cent payout makes for a sturdy 2.8% yield.
One-Year Return: 13%
Abbott Laboratories (NYSE:ABT) also has a male at the helm, but that’s complemented by more than 40% female senior managers and four of 11 female board members.
Of course, with a healthcare-focused company like Abbott, returns can often fall out of the hands of management — male or female. Last year, for example, shares plummeted after the company’s partner discontinued a late-stage trial of a potential blockbuster drug.
Since then, Abbott Laboratories has split into two companies, with its pharma division operating under the name AbbVie (NYSE:ABBV). Abbott itself is a diversified healthcare firm, with nutritionals, diagnostics, generic drugs and medical devices.
There’s plenty of room for growth in such a segment — part of the reasons for its slightly higher valuation — thanks to long-term healthcare trends and the fact that the new Abbott Labs gets around 40% of its sales from emerging markets.
One-Year Return: 18%
What’s not to love about beverage behemoth PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP)? So far this year, the diversified giant — which doesn’t just make Pepsi beverages, but also popular snack brands like Frito Lay and Quaker Oats — is beating the broader market with 11% gains.
The company has 22 total brands that each bring in at least $1 billion in annual sales — diversification on the product end that mixes nicely with its geographical diversification. PepsiCo’s products can be found across the globe. Plus, the company offers investors a sweet 2.8% dividend yield.
PepsiCo is headed by Indian-American female powerhouse Indra Nooyi, while its board is one-third female.
Of course, it’s a sad that having one-third of your board as female is considered progressive. Hopefully down the road, a company having half — or more than half — of female board members, or having a female chief will be a little less noteworthy.
Until then, stick to these four companies that are at least ahead of the game.
As of this writing, Alyssa Oursler did not own a position in any of the aforementioned securities.