Why Gender Lens Investing Matters: The Future is Female

Former First Lady, Michelle Obama, made a triumphant return to the spotlight with a message of female empowerment and a call to action for more open and honest conversation about gender. TOGETHER, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado’s 30th Anniversary Celebration, was the perfect venue for her return to the public eye.

The ladies of PeakChange had the pleasure of attending this fundraiser in July 2017. The audience of over 8,300 people featured groups like Youth on Record, the Athena Project, and the Foundation’s Girls Leadership Council performing on stage. Speakers including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Colorado Lt. Gov. and COO, Donna Lynne. The Pepsi Center was filled with electric energy and every individual present surely left feeling empowered to continue the awesome work we do. Mayor Hancock’s address also affirmed the reason PeakChange is based in Denver: Colorado has proven it is a community that supports and empowers women. The state has the highest percentage of women in government positions in any state in the U.S. as well as some of the highest percentages of women with bachelor degrees working in STEM jobs and holding leadership roles within their organizations. The Women’s Foundation of Colorado has played a large role in creating this reality; and we hope we can continue to do our part to strengthen the women of Colorado as activists, entrepreneurs, investors, and philanthropists. Oh wait, did we mention that Former First Lady Michelle Obama was the keynote speaker? And that it was her first public appearance since leaving the White House? No big deal…we may or may not have cried when she entered the arena (hint: we did).

Photo of The Women's Foundation's Leadership Council 2017 Cohort. No pictures of Michelle Obama were allowed during her chat with Lauren Casteel.

Photo of The Women's Foundation's Leadership Council 2017 Cohort. No pictures of Michelle Obama were allowed during her chat with Lauren Casteel.

After a minutes-long standing ovation, the crowd settled in to listen to Michelle Obama and Lauren Casteel, President and CEO of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, have a refreshingly candid conversation between two accomplished and highly qualified women. The conversation covered everything from Michelle’s childhood role models to the need for greater collective action to lift up the women and girls around us. But with the poise and wisdom we’ve come to expect from her, Michelle ended the night with a simple, ultimate hope for the future: that we create a world that cares for its women; a world that allows women to travel along its streets without fear; one that creates equal opportunity for women to earn their living; one that offers women equal access to healthcare, financial services, and education; one that ultimately lifts women up with the respect and reverence each of us deserves.

Individually, this message hit home. But it also resonated with the work we do here at PeakChange because, when it comes to impact investing, the future really is female. Impact investing is being driven by women on all ends - both as investors allocating capital and as social entrepreneurs across the globe. Perhaps more importantly, when development efforts target women and children, the impact created exponentially benefits the community more than when efforts target men (just look at the list of funds working with women below to learn about this firsthand). Gender lens investing (GLI) has become a popular strategy for investing; and, while definitions and applications vary, most simply stated it is the deliberate integration of gender criteria into investment analysis and decision-making. Recently, GLI has come to include people of color and sexual orientation.

As a leader in the impact investing space, we care about trends and data. And the numbers related to women in impact investing are staggering. In its section “Women Rising,” Impact Alpha highlights the following statistics:

●      $28 trillion: The boost to global GDP, if women participated equally in the global economy

●      Three-quarters: The worldwide share of discretionary spending expected to be controlled by women by 2028

●       Two-thirds: The share of total U.S. wealth expected to be controlled by women in 2028

●      $560 Million: The total invested with a gender lens in public equities and debt

These numbers are impressive, and people are now paying more attention to women. Everyone from wealth managers with a deep commitment to GLI, like Veris Wealth Partners, to popular media outlets, such as the Huffington Post and Forbes, and top business schools have joined the conversation. In fact, among the reasons more people are taking an interest in the impact investing field is because of its support from and for women.

Yet as a community, we can do better. We need to be putting more money behind GLI strategies because, as you can see, the numbers leave a lot of room for growth. At PeakChange, we have dedicated a specific portion of our portfolio to gender lens investments. We are proud to say that 62% of our direct investments overall are in companies that have women working in the C-suite.

In addition to our investments, PeakChange just signed the Gender Avenger Pledge in which we vowed to not sit on or attend any panel that ignores diversity and does not include women. We have also been compiling a list of women who are experts in their fields, including impact investing and social enterprise, to speak at and contribute to PeakChange events and those of our partners.

How do we collectively unleash more capital into women-backed and women-targeted ventures?

Just as Michelle Obama noted, “It’s important to ask for help and to lean on each other.” Inspired by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and the former First Lady herself, let’s start a conversation and support each other's efforts. As a philanthropist or investor, you can get acquainted with the following impact funds that are led by and/or targeting women and minority groups: Reinventure Capital, Backstage Capital, Women’s Venture Capital Fund, Founder's First Capital Partners, Pipeline Angels, and New Wave Ventures. If you are a female entrepreneur, here are 50 ways you can fund your business. We can help each other create a bigger impact around the world, better inform ourselves about opportunities in gender lens investing, and be honest about our hesitations or concerns in doing so. We want to learn from and support you so that we can advance as a community. Contact us to share your ideas and feedback. When women rise, we all rise. 

This blog was co-authored by Annie Carruthers, PeakChange.