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An interview with Jerome Tagger: “I also see the chasm between what professionals in ESG want, and what their institutions will let them do”.

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By Praveen Gupta, Jérôme Tagger

· 5 min read

Preventable Surprises recently released its latest discussion note: The Great Wake-Up - why investors must act on women’s health. The note analyses the current state of play on investor and corporate action on women’s health. It proposes a series of steps and actions investors can take to give women’s health a suitable and effective place among their ESG practices.

With notable exceptions, the gender lens is absent from health frameworks and discussions, and the health lens is absent from gender frameworks or discussions. Neither is women’s health to be found in ESG approaches.

These issues are particularly relevant for investors who have embraced stewardship, believes Preventable Surprises. Jerome Tagger shares some candid insights with Praveen Gupta. This bold exploration has a universal relevance - as the world we live in braces for multiple #polycrises.

About Jerome

Jérôme Tagger explores the intersection of financial markets and society. He joined Preventable Surprises as CEO in 2020 after 15 years of field building in responsible finance. He was a Director at the Global Impact Investing Network, the founding COO of the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), Head of Research at Eurosif and Chief Revenue Officer at ImpactAlpha. He most recently advised UNEP FI’s Positive Impact Initiative and the World Benchmarking Alliance. 

The interview

Praveen Gupta: What steps and actions can investors take to give women’s health a suitable and effective place among their ESG practices? 

Jerome Tagger: We started exploring this topic after the US Supreme Court changed the Federal rules of the game on abortion. It was a momentous event for people and for business, and we wanted to understand the ramifications of this decision. This opened a much larger discussion about health and women’s health specifically – a set of questions with significant social and economic ramifications. We observed that women’s health as a topic is largely absent from the ESG and corporate responsibility conversations and reporting frameworks.

From there, our guide outlines concrete steps investors can take learning – for its own sake but also to socialize often taboo questions on women’s health and reproductive health, and to access lessons learned from investors on other issues. That, by the way, is where we had to start ourselves. Setting priorities – in terms of policy and portfolio focus. Acting on ESG data provision, on processes, on shareholder engagement. We include a set of guiding questions that investors can ask companies. And activating systems – to set agendas, in collaboration with others, to ensure society establishes what good looks like in terms of women’s health and the role of the private sector, and to ensure that the most at-risk populations are not left behind.

But really the most crucial step, whenever it takes place, is for investors to decide if they want to do something about it. On that front, we are grateful for the leadership of organizations such as Rhia Ventures and investors who are out in front challenging the private sector and society. We are also grateful for the support of DAWN Worldwide in enabling our project.

PG: Why has it taken so long to focus on women’s health?

JT: With some exceptions, mainstream institutional investors move slowly, they primarily focus on protecting their reputational risk. It will take continued pressure from campaigners to make progress. Add to this the overwhelming role of men in leadership in finance, and we have our work cut out. I have to say, some of our usual friends have been notably silent on this topic.

PG: US Supreme Court’s June 2022 Dobbs v. Jackson decision does not fit into the mainstream of corporate sustainability and ESG practice?

JT: I think of the children’s book, “we’re going on a bear hunt,” with its famous chorus: “can’t go over it, can’t go under it, we’re gonna have to get through it.” Meaning, you can’t really overcome it if you are in the US. You can on a strategic level take a different orientation, but the reality here is that the Dobbs decision will be the anchor of much of women’s health landscape for the foreseeable future. Elsewhere, that’s a different story and there will be other ways for investors to enter the fray.

PG: What kind of systems ought to be activated and any particular challenges enroute?

JT: There is an opportunity to have a much more active stakeholder dialogue on women’s health between the private sector and NGOs. That is one worth focusing on. There is very little in the way of shared goals, no general agreement on what good corporate practice looks like for example, and more broadly what it takes for women to strive in society. This requires a groundswell. The challenges will be those faced by women since the beginning of time in many societies – there isn’t really a simple “on/off” switch for that.

PG: A roadmap to making women’s health an integral part of ESG practice is not just about navigating through the red and blue states?

JT: Absolutely, which means navigating a range of cultural, social, and political systems. In absolute terms, many more humans are concerned. This merits its own focus.

PG: Do you see any wakeup signs within institutional investors? What kind of stewardship is expected?

JT: I do. Not nearly enough, but I do. I also see the chasm between what professionals in ESG want, and what their institutions will let them do. That has always been true on well-trodden issues like climate change, but on gender questions writ-large there is a lot of pent-up energy that is working to liberate itself. I mentioned our report proposes questions that investors can ask of their portfolio companies to initiate a dialogue. That would be a good place to start as far as stewardship is concerned.

PG: Is there an adequate spotlight on the intersection of race, gender, and health?

JT: There isn’t.

PG: Do you see litigation driving desired change?

JT: In America you can always expect litigation to drive change, for better or for worse.

PG: Many thanks for sharing your candid thoughts, Jerome. My best wishes in your ongoing endeavours to ensure such a critical outcome.

This article is also published on the author's blog. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the authors

Praveen Gupta was the second most-read author in the environment and sustainability space for illuminem in 2022. A former insurance CEO and a Chartered Insurer, he devotes his time to researching, writing, and speaking on diverse subjects. His blog captures much of his work.

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Jérôme Tagger is CEO of Preventable Surprises and Partner and Co-founder of WhiteLabel Impact. He is experienced in institutional ESG and impact finance.

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