The team here at Pioneers Post asked me to write something on the “female perspective" on social finance. I have a dual reaction to the question. The first is YES and thank you for asking. There are too many all-male or mostly-male panels of speakers at our conferences, a disproportionate number of male voices in even the social finance and social entrepreneurship media, and a disproportionate number of men on the investment committees and management teams of the impact investment funds, incubators, and most angel groups in our space. I’m out to change that. On the other hand, there is no “one” female perspective as I think enlightened investors bring different perspectives. Diversity of perspective is what I think is the real end game, and that is what is demonstrating out-performance in financial results and in the social and environmental outcomes that we’re all aiming for.
And the angel group
I lead is 50% women, and half of the entrepreneurs we’re asking to pitch, are women. I run a group in London called Women in Social Finance, and am part of a global nonprofit field building initiative called The Women Effect (follow #genderlensinv), with Criterion Ventures
. We’ve been steadily tracking both the rise of an amazing base of women, globally, who are part of this movement and field, and the continued lack of visibility of that shift.
I’m going to parse this as really two separate questions: Are women’s voices as investors well represented? And is a GENDER LENS represented? I’m interested in both of these questions.
What do women investors bring (I hate stereotypes so just take as a given that I’m conflicted, but going to represent TENDENCIES rather than absolutes) to social finance insights and decisions?
Let's talk first about emotional intelligence combined with financial acumen. A woman (or many of the enlightened men I know) is more likely to want to understand the motivations of the entrepreneur. How they interact with their team and their partners. How they are managing work/life balance issues. A woman may bring insights about the female market opportunities and barriers (reminder that women do make 80%+ of the purchasing decisions in households). A woman may ask more questions about diversity, equity and fairness, labour policies, decision making. She might bring more empathy to the picture – causing an entrepreneur with choice about their investors to choose her or her team over a competing investor. A woman may not trust her own instincts as quickly as her male counterpart, therefore she’s inclined to do more due diligence, be more reflective about a decision. The evidence is that women want to discuss decisions more, collaborate, hear different points of view. And the evidence there is that reflection and collaborative discussion leads to better decision making.
Using a gender lens leads to thinking about seeking out women entrepreneurs or a gender balance in founding and management teams. Seeking out signs of gender equity or inequity. Seeking out business opportunities where the products and services benefit women and girls or represent positive attention to imagery, language, around women and girls.
Why might this decrease risk and increase opportunity? On one side – we need the best ideas, entrepreneurs and teams to solve the problems we’re aiming to solve in the world. Why not be sure we’re looking at half the population for that creativity and capability? Also, who would you rather invest in – a brand which denigrates women and girls, or one that lifts women and girls up? And back to purchase decisions and target markets – where is there an opportunity to target women as consumers, buyers, workforce? Where is there more risk? More opportunity? In mainstream marketing, we are seeing shifts – look at the Dove campaign from Unilever
as an example. Look at iconic women’s brands such as Eileen Fisher
and the Dr. Hauschka
, and ones less associated with women but very fairly male/female balanced – Patagonia
. And in the social venture space, on every metric – poverty alleviation, health, education, housing, food security, water, climate change, disability… there is a gender lens, whether it is front and center, or less obvious. (This is a big focus of the Women Effect project – to make the less visible visible.)
So where is there a woman’s perspective and/or a gender lens relevant? Just, everywhere. And so I hope to write about this, and bring in many fabulous, smart women’s voices into this column, to highlight, debate, instigate, catalyze more thinking and more awareness around this. With the ultimate goal – more and better social outcomes, more smart money and support flowing to the better projects, and shift market systems around this. I hope you’ll join me.