Try this exercise. When you think ‘women’ and ‘investing’ what do you think about? This piece is going to ask you to think about the ‘women effect’ as a factor across multiple dimensions where ‘women and girls’ and ‘impact investing’ come together. Across all asset classes, and a variety of stakeholders.
Let’s put it right out there … women belong as investors (whether it’s their own capital or on behalf of others), as entrepreneurs, in management, and as board members. They belong in the picture of social impact as leaders in women-led enterprises, as participants in enterprises where women can create or increase wealth, as beneficiaries of investment, philanthropy or development aid. In fact they are key actors in almost any aspect of investment you might consider.
The case has been made about why women – and gender-diverse teams – make better investors, why you’d want women on boards, on a management team, on an investment committee, or running a hedge fund. The case has also been made that getting access to capital for women and girls lifts up their families, their communities, and indeed their nations, in a way that investment in men cannot. I’m not going to use my space here to debate these facts.
Investing with a gender lens
A gender lens in impact investing means considering how you can use your investment capital to have a positive impact on women and girls, and correspondingly to help solve the challenges that are the focus of our social investments and philanthropy. Whether we’re speaking about what are often called ‘women’s issues’ such as slavery and trafficking, domestic violence or maternal health (which aren’t ‘women’s issues’ as much as core ‘societal issues’) or about food security, healthcare, education, access to finance, energy, clean water, sanitation, you name it: women are the reality in the picture – though ironically often not in the picture when it comes to considering our investments.
And we must be as committed about getting women into the picture as impact investors, and therefore also as owners, board members and fund managers, as about investing with a gender lens. And this is not just about women. It’s about diversity, and the evidence that diversity, whether it be on teams or inside portfolios, enables investors to outperform their peers.
Some of the pioneers in the ‘women effect’ conversation are Joy Anderson (Criterion Institute), Jackie Vanderbrug (US Trust, previously at Criterion) and the team at Calvert Foundation (there are too many women who have been inspirational to mention all of them here). Today, we could list dozens of women and men who have influenced this conversation, from the pioneers in impact fund management to those who started out in the early days of microfinance, SRI, community investing, and more.