International Women’s Day is especially significant this year in light of the #metoo campaign focusing on the harassment of women, especially in the workplace. The movement’s widespread effect on different industries has included financial services, with investors reportedly wanting to move more money into companies supporting women. In January, CNBC identified over 30 ‘gender lens investing’ strategies, reporting that assets under management had jumped by 41% to $910m ending June 2017.
Reflecting this trend, the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) has launched the Gender Lens Investing Initiative supporting impact investors with gender lens strategies.
Here is Responsible Investor’s Q&A with GIIN CEO Amit Bouri about the initiative’s aims and objectives.
What has been the impetus behind creating the Gender Lens Investing Initiative?
Amit: From our standpoint, it is really critical when we look at issues facing the world to think about the role that investment capital can play in gender equity. It is one of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 5) and we saw that there was a lot of interest in the market, and increasing levels of activities around gender lens investing. We hope we can build on what we have today to have a dramatic impact on the issue of gender equity throughout the impact investment community and throughout the broader investment community as well.
What is the business case for gender lens investing?
Amit: There will be more assets controlled and managed by women as wealth transfer occurs. So, there is [a growing] part of the financial services community serving the female investor market. Women control much of household discretionary spending and there is a tremendous opportunity for thinking about women as consumers and customers. There are opportunities to increasingly think about how women will want to purchase products that are designed to address their needs. They will want to interact with companies and investors that are more attuned to their priorities. So, there is a business case in thinking as women as investors, as owners of businesses, and women as consumers and employees. I also think what is critical and motivating to a lot of investors is that people care about this issue and they want to prioritise and put their capital to work to create a world they want to live in, and that includes gender equality. One of the exciting things is that investors are realising that their investment capital can be a tool for addressing the critical issue of gender equity.h6. What will the Gender Lens Investing Initiative entail?
Amit: We are just getting the Initiative ramped up and a working group will be formally launched later this year with a diverse group from mainstream financial services firms, to philanthropic foundations and people working with high net worth individuals. There will be a database on gender lens investing focused on allocations and strategies. There is a huge need for people who are excited about the concept of investing with a gender lens but want to understand how that approach actually transforms into tangible deals that have an impact on gender equity. We have a role to play in collective learning – taking what people are doing and experiencing all around the world and bringing it together to help advance progress to the issue of gender equity. A database is a way to compile deals and projects that people have invested in to help facilitate tangible action and learning for investors throughout the network. Because of the nature of the information we do make available, it does require sharing things that are typically private. So we are trying to crate a mechanism so this information is shared with other investors to learn from too.
How does the GIIN see gender lens investing in practice?
Amit: Gender lens investing has two components – one which is intentionally and measurably addressing gender disparity and the other is understanding and examining gender dynamics to better inform. So, for example, what types of entrepreneurs are you working with and who is in the room when decisions are made?
I think the way that people are thinking about gender lens investing is broad and that’s a good thing. I think it’s everything from how investing is conducted to what you’re actually investing in. We see investors looking at things such as who owns the business, and women as customers, and the products and services developed to address their needs. A tangible example is a lot of our members are interested in renewable energy access. You may not think it is a gender issue but 75% of the world’s ‘energy poor’ are women. So some impact themes prioritised by investors are having a disproportionate impact on women and it is important for investors to continue to understand that.