There’s not just one advantage of looking at investments through a gender lens. At the outset of ImpactAlpha’s Agents of Impact conference call last month, Catalyst at Large Suzanne Biegel ticked off a half-dozen or more.
Those advantages include the governance and leadership dividend from having a diverse set of people in the boardroom and senior manager. An innovation dividend derives from women entrepreneurs and co-founders, as well as women inventors and innovators. The “size of the women’s market dividend” reflects advantages to companies aware of women’s power in purchasing decisions. The customer-insight dividend refers to the revenue boost to companies that better understand what all their customers want and need – and are willing to pay for. The reputational value dividend translates into both share prices and talent-acquisition, as people increasingly want to do business or work for good companies for women – and for everybody.
The social impact dividend comes from investing in issues that disproportionately affect women and girls. What’s exciting, Biegel said, is “People coming up, and saying, ‘This is as relevant in energy, climate change, access to water, to new business models, as it is in the more obvious areas of health, education and financial inclusion.”
Biegel was fresh from co-producing the first Gender-Smart Investing Summit in London and shared some takeaways. Take the U.K.’s push to require companies to disclose gender-based pay gaps in their compensation schemes. “Is not having equal pay a material risk to the business? Five years ago, people would have said ‘no,'” Biegel said. “What’s the ripple effect when you say companies have to report on their pay gap? It causes a conversation and a dialogue inside and outside the company, with prospective employees, with customers who say ‘Is that a company I want to do business with?’ The ripple effect of just that one shift, of people saying, ‘Maybe this isn’t a company I want to be connected to,’ is tremendous.”
Money is starting to move toward explicit gender-lens strategies. There’s approximately $2.2 billion in private venture-capital and private equity funds that Biegel tracks through Project Sage, and about $2.4 billion that Veris Wealth Partners found in their latest report. The much bigger category of managed and institutional assets that take gender issues into consideration may be as much as $1.7 trillion, according to the latest report from US SIF.
“People ask is the number the $5 billion or the $1.7 trillion? It’s both,” Biegel said. “If you’re asking ‘Who is being the most intentional, and measuring, tracking and reporting, it’s the smaller number. If you want to look at folks who say gender is one factor of analysis, it’s the biggest number.”
More and better fund and company data is needed on women’s inclusion and gender is needed, said Luisamaria Ruiz Carlile of Veris Wealth Partners, explaining why some high-profile gender equality funds received lower scores from an online tool tracking…gender equality.
“We are very early on in trying to capture the gender alpha,” Ruiz Carlile said. “As companies become aware of the As You Sow and Equileap scorecard, there will be emphasis on better policy, better disclosure, and better reporting.”
Sharron McPherson joined the call to describe the work of the Women in Infrastructure Development & Energy, or WINDE, consortium, which aggregates the power of more than 2,000 women-led construction, logistics, water and energy businesses in Africa to better compete for larger contracts.
“We weren’t able to access the right funds….so we went out and tapped into our collective power,” McPherson said. “We said ‘Let’s put together what we have and create a funding model that works for us.’”
Among the initiatives and organizations name-checked on the call:
- The 30% Coalition – working to increase gender diversity in corporate boardrooms.
- The Billion Dollar Fund for Women – seeking to mobilize $1 billion for companies founded by women entrepreneurs over the next decade, globally.
- The Reproductive Health Investors Alliance – identifying, vetting and incubating deals and solutions for reproductive health and justice.
- The Gender Lens Impact Measurement Fund — A collaboration between the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs and Canada’s International Development Research Centre.
- Women Deliver — The world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and wellbeing of girls and women, in Vancouver in June.
- Finance as a Tool to Address Gender-Based Violence – a project of Criterion Institute to move $10 billion into strategies to combat gender-based violence.