In just four years, assets under management (AUM) with a gender lens jumped from $100 million to $2.4 billion (a 2400% increase). I define the fast-growing field of gender lens investing simply as, “Innovative and intentional investments in gender equity for ALL women.” Based on decades of data, my definition of gender lens investing is broad and inclusive. I know that planet, people, and profits will be infinitely better off if we invest in gender equity.
Jackie VanderBrug, one of the foremothers of the field and author of Gender Lens Investing: Uncovering Opportunities for Growth, Returns, and Impact (2016) defines gender lens investing as, “Making decisions that support gender equality while seeking financial returns.” The Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) defines gender-lens investing as “Investment strategies applied to an allocation or to the entirety of an investment portfolio, which seek to examine gender dynamics to better inform investment decisions and/or intentionally and measurably address gender disparities.”
Whichever way you approach it, gender lens investing is a key strategy for any smart impact investor.
In 2016, Veris Wealth Partners, whose reports have tracked the products and AUM of the field, outlined five different goals for gender lens investing:
1. Advance women in leadership
2. Increase women’s access to capital
3. Secure gender equity in the workplace
4. Address urgent gender justice and equality issues
5. Increase the knowledge, confidence, and number of active women investors
Then in March, I had the distinct pleasure of attending a Getting Gender Smart training with my colleagues Suzanne Beigel and Cathy Clark at Duke. I learned about yet more approaches to investing with a gender lens, including assessing whether we are “gender positive” or better yet, “gender transformative” with our portfolios. Today, we have the opportunity to invest in businesses based on what we know about their intentional practices toward equity versus simply investing in those businesses who give lip service to gender equity and racial equity, but do little to advance either cause. Gender transformative companies demonstrate their intention to be transformative throughout their entire supply chain, their governance practices, policies, marketing and so forth. These are the companies we should all be investing in.
To get started in gender lens investing, here are five things that I invite you to reflect upon.
1) Lead with your values.
In philanthropy, there is a shift happening where people are moving on a continuum from Charity to Social Justice to Advocacy and now Impact Investing. Individuals and organizations are thinking about their entire portfolio for social change and foundations are looking at their endowments with an eye toward values alignment. If a foundation, for example, is doing grantmaking in climate justice, but their investments are held in fossil fuels, how does this align with their values? And think about how many women’s rights organizations have funds in companies that are simply not vetted with a gender equity lens. Know your values first and then work with your financial advisor and/or investment committees to ensure that your giving and investing choices are truly aligned with your values or your organization’s values.
2) Gender lens investing makes social impact investing more robust.
Social impact investing (SRI) began picking up speed in the U.S. in the 1980s. According to the most recent report from The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, it is now a nearly $12 trillion dollar sector. Every financial institution has an SRI product to offer. Gender lens investing products have greatly expanded the social impact investing field. Thanks to Veris Wealth Partners’ 2018 report, “Bending the Arc of Finance for Women and Girls,” we know that investing with a gender lens is available for all investors as there are now 70 different public and private products available.
All of this growth and momentum is coming on the heels of the #TimesUp movement. Every generation, and especially millennials, are asking all the right questions about gender equity and where to effectively deploy their money, which will only accelerate the entire SRI arena.
3) There are gender lens investing options for every scale and type of investment.
From PAX Ellevate to SheEO to RSF and Plum Alley, you can get started in (gender lens) investing with as little as $1,000-$5000. Each of these platforms gives you the opportunity to participate in the value proposition of women and invest in their leadership. The best place to start is by seeing if your retirement funds are invested in companies that have women on their board and/or have gender fair policies and if not, consider moving your funds to one of the many public equity funds that are gender transformative. Visit Equileap Index for research on how and where to best align your purchases and investments.
Invest for Better is an incredible new resource to embolden you can use to start conversations with your family, your organizations, your friends around moving your money with your values and for impact. Investing in women-led ventures is also a “product” that is exponentially growing. Pipeline Angels is a network for people who want to start angel investing. As we discover new investing opportunities, we would be wise to intentionally invest in ventures led by women of color.
And remember, using a gender lens is not only about giving or investing, it’s also about spending/consuming! Visit GenderFair to learn about companies you support with your money and their policies with regard to equality. Spend your money according to your values, please!
4) There’s a lot of money currently held by women and soon coming to women in the next generational transfer of wealth. All of these funds need to be invested and mobilized on behalf of women of color and all women and girls.
Women currently control approximately 20 trillion in investments and make up 45% of millionaires in the U.S. We dominate the workforce, make 80% of the purchasing decisions, make 80% of health care decisions, and, as an inclusive sisterhood, are learning more and more how to be leaders in giving and investing arenas. This includes the decision making we engage in with our partners.
By 2020 women are expected to hold $72 trillion in wealth and most of the wealth that changes hands in the coming decades will also likely go to women. Right now this wealth is certainly not distributed equitably. For those women who do hold financial resources or will inherit significant financial resources, this moment we’re living in is full of tremendous opportunity to move money to other women with a racial and economic justice lens.
5) The money is out there to give and invest!
I was shocked and disappointed to learn in 2015 that holiday shopping alone had outpaced annual philanthropic dollars ($440 billion versus the $358 billion, according to the National Retail Federation). Add to this the fact that only 5–7% of foundation giving goes to women and girls, a rate of giving that’s been stagnant for 30 years. Respect for the well-being of women and girls is not a value that we support either individually or institutionally and this must change.
Now think about if we put a gender lens value on the roughly $50 trillion Americans invest annually? If we can influence just 1% of this amount with a gender lens we can catalyze far more money for social justice than philanthropy could ever do. Knowing the potential outcomes of this work is why I spend so much time learning and writing about gender lens investing now as I do the rest of my work portfolio. Please join me and others as we gather for “Women and Money: Making Money Moves that Matter”September 16–17 in Austin!
I am grateful for the leaders and teachers in this space who I continue to learn from and work alongside with, including Joy Anderson, Tracy Gray, Kristin Hull, Rachel Robasciotti, Ellen Remmer, and Jacki VanderBrug. As I mentioned above, recently I joined 24 other fierce gender justice leaders in finance for a Getting Gender Smart certification with Suzanne Beigel and Cathy Clark. It was an inspiring, aspirational event that continues to propel me forward with gratitude for the multitudes of individuals who are working in isolation and/or pioneering gender lens investing in organizations and corporations that are struggling to make the decision to wholly engage in this work.
To each of you, thank you for the ways in which you use your voice and your power. Bravo!