Thinking differently about gender equality and finance

As part of a forthcoming panel at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum, i’ve been asked to think about how, as leaders, we can play our part in advancing gender equality. In a time of so much turbulence — economic, social, environmental, political, cultural, technological — there are opportunities for huge directional shifts, but we need a compass to keep us on course.

My particular focus and point of influence is finance and investment. I and many others believe that considering how we deploy capital can get us towards a gender equitable world. This is broader than increasing the visibility and quantity of women founders and entrepreneurs who get funded. We can also use our roles as investors and board members to shift things much more intentionally and strategically to reflect the social, environmental and gender equitable world we want to see, with positive financial outcomes.

I see three ‘re-sets’ required to help us get more capital flowing in the right direction.

Re-set 1: Awareness of and action on hidden biases impacting women entrepreneurs and co-founders beyond access to capital

Considering where women have been undercapitalised is certainly a huge starting point.

We know that many (but not all) have found it harder to access capital because of social, cultural, and regulatory or legal barriers. There are early signs of shifts here with new funds, new structures and new capital being allocated with a gender lens.

Beyond this, however, we know that access to technological innovation is not gender neutral. Various sources including Sharron McPherson at the Center for Disruptive Technology point out that guys are learning about using disruptive tech faster — a key driver of growth and competitive advantage. If women are less in the flow of information, does that create a competitive disadvantage? Similarly, new products and services contain the biases of their engineering and design teams — consider the gender of ‘helper’ bots Siri and Alexa. If tomorrow’s technology benefits one half of the population disproportionately, then we have a serious problem.

Re-set 2: A new framework for investing in gender equity beyond women entrepreneurs and co-founders

Most people are not going to be entrepreneurs, they’re going to work in companies, supply chains, or the gig economy, so there’s impact to be considered beyond the entrepreneur.

One of our learnings from the Women Effect community pilot was how many frames investors use in thinking about gender in addition to backing women founders/owners, such as:

  • Using capital to advance women’s leadership or economic participation overall
  • Seeing gender as a way of addressing broader social inequities and issues — Drawdown author Paul Hawken has identified the combo of girls’ education and family planning as the number one strategy for combating climate change
  • Investing in untapped ‘women’s markets’
  • Using gender as a factor of analysis in making better investment decisions across an entire portfolio — Criterion Institute created this frame and teaches it phenomenally

Some investors are vocal about paying attention to gender and some just want to do the work without discussion. Language varies. Framing varies. Where do you identify?

Re-set 3: Put men and boys in the picture

We need to speak consciously about where men and boys are in this picture. These are not “women’s issues.” Whether we’re talking about the shifting roles for men at work and home, men’s roles as allies or obstacles, how we’re educating boys, violence against women, men and boys are also negatively affected by traditional gender roles. When men want to become more active fathers and social stigma (from both sides) gets in the way, when men are expected to be the main earners in a household, how are we all perpetuating the status quo?

Uncertainty and massive opportunity

When any system shifts, it presents opportunity as well as uncertainty. Uncertainty makes people cling to the past and what felt stable, holding onto old beliefs and ways. This does not bode well for gender equality. We need a massive shift and we’ll only get this using the most powerful tools at our disposal. Investment can be one of those tools.

There is also a growing body of research that shows that the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.

As we’re looking at the great re-set this year, we need to make, and keep making, these connections between gender and everything else that matters — in climate change, food security, economic growth, political stability, and more.

Suzanne will be speaking on a panel discussing the Gender Re-set at the Resnick Aspen Action Forum on 28 July 2017.