Gender Lens Investing

| July 18, 2011


By Jacki Zehner        (reprinted with permission from Purse Pundits)

(Reprinted from Women Advisors Forum)
Women are now over 50% of the US workforce, make the vast majority of consumer purchasing decisions, and buy trillions of dollars of investment product, yet, we are much more likely to be poor, are barely represented in most leadership roles, and according to the United Nations, one in three of us will be physically or sexually abused in our lifetime. In the United States women still earn approximately 80 cents to the male dollar, yet women globally control $20 trillion in investment dollars and are 9% of the world’s billionaires. *

Why the contrast? In large part, it’s dollars and sense. We haven’t brought our most powerful collective resource, our money, to bear on driving positive social change. Giving to non-profit groups that work on behalf of women and girls is certainly worthwhile, but what about the vast amounts of our for-profit investment dollars also at our disposal? Gender Lens Investing, a for-profit investment approach which seeks positive return alongside the advancement of women and girls, could vastly accelerate the movement to a more gender balanced and just world.

Non-profit dollars will never be enough to solve the complex issues and negative outcomes associated with gender inequality. By thinking about gender when investing, we can use the markets to narrow the gender gap which, as studies show, has the additional benefit of fostering economic growth and creating jobs. Moreover, many government, economic and business entities have showered us with research stating that, in addition to positive economic and social implications, increased political stability is also highly correlated to the status of women and girls. In other words, greater gender equality results in greater economic and human security which in turn is good capital markets.

Increasing numbers of development agencies and progressive philanthropists understand these benefits and are allocating a greater percentage of their resources to women led solutions. But it will never be enough. Responsible and ethical capitalism needs to help solve this highly complex and interconnected problem. We need to put to work much bigger pools of capital. We must expand our thinking about the role money plays in our lives and how it can be fully utilized to not only provide for our life choices, but for those who have few choices at all.

What is your hope as an investment advisor or as an investor? Most likely, to earn a long term, positive, risk adjusted financial return on your financial assets, or those of your client. In this new world of impact investing, many people layer on a values lens, saying they want their money to reflect their commitment to the social good as well. Though socially responsible and impact investing are not new, investor demand has expanded dramatically, prompting J.P. Morgan to call it “an emerging asset class” in a comprehensive, recently released report. As a result, new investment vehicles are emerging at a fast clip.

Care about providing those in need with clean water? You can invest in fund vehicles that provide capital to companies that have created clean water technologies. Care about a low carbon footprint? Lots of funds do clean tech. Want to invest in alignment with your religious values? There are products for that. Care about something as core to human existence as gender equality and where do you go? There are relatively few options and these managers and opportunities are often hard to find and their collective asset size is relatively small. (I hope to write about a few of them in a subsequent piece and feel free to post a response with opportunities you know of.)

When women hold so much economic power, why do we not use it more fully to drive positive change for our own sex and thereby for the world in general? Why, when we make 80% of the consumer purchase decisions, do we not seem to care that the products we use are often made by companies that have no women on their boards of directors or in leadership roles? Why, when we own control trillions of the financial assets in this country, are we not supporting and asking for financial products that provide capital for other women, who too often undergo “capital punishment” just because they are a women? Why are we not embracing the wealth of research that suggests that women fund managers may well be more “risk measured,” leading to better potential returns? Why don’t we look for a wider range of for-profit investment funds or companies that have technologies that can, for example, reduce maternal mortality in the developing world? Why aren’t enough wealth advisors asking what issues we care about then finding or creating financial products to match?

I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve got a few educated guesses drawing from my many years as a finance professional, an investor, and a philanthropic funder of women and girls. The first that we (you, me, the media, and the financial and philanthropic community in general) really don’t see gender inequality as that big of a deal. We have gotten so used to hearing the horrible statistics about women and girls that we have become desensitized to them. Nicholas Kristof recently said that gender inequality is the greatest human crisis we face today. I agree. Examine the evidence and come to your own conclusion. (see the resource list below to get you started)

The second is that we have not framed the issue and opportunity such that people are willing to change their financial behavior. Goldman Sachs has been a leader in producing a number of quality research reports on the economics of women but they have yet to aggressively position it as a full out investment thesis. Others are trying to. Criterion Ventures, which “seeks to shape the social capital markets to maximize their impact on women and girls” is working to map the space and generate deep interest. We need more people talking about this Gender Lens Investing framework, investment gatherings that incorporate a gender overlay, and a lot of media focus to help drive behavior change.

Jacki Zehner To read the full article and the resource list, visit Ms. Zehner’s blog Purse Pundits or the Women Advisor’s Forum or the link that follows: Read more

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