The term ‘gender lens investing’ coined in early 2009, is now being used heavily in the VC world. Throughout the years, women-owned businesses have suffered due to lack of capital, funds, support, and resources. According to an Ashoka global survey, 9% of their fellows reported experiencing gender-specific challenges while attracting funding and investment for their businesses.
In 2005, when Valeurs Feminines fund, created by the French money-management firm Conseil Plus Gestion, started investing in women-owned and women-led European businesses, it led to many other venture capitalists joining the league. Now, some of the famous gender lens portfolios include Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Root Capital, Veris Wealth Partners, Illuminate Ventures, Trillium Asset Management, Gray Matters Capital, Golden Seeds, and the Calvert Foundation.
Gender lens investment yields many benefits to the ecosystem and also contributes to our sustainable future. As times are changing and if we look back, the return on investment or equity of women-owned or backed businesses has never been low. Over a five-year period (2011-2016), U.S. companies that began the period with at least three women on the board experienced median gains in return on equity (ROE) of 10 percentage points and earnings per share (EPS) of 37%.
What other benefits does gender lens investing bring to the table? I had the opportunity to talk to five social entrepreneurs and VCs to share their opinion on it. Let’s hear it from them.
“Gender investing is absolutely necessary for the ecosystem since women entrepreneurs have been tremendously underfunded around the world, whether it is in Silicon Valley or in an emerging market. Yet, research has shown that companies consisting of at least one female senior executive are more likely to have favorable outcomes than those with an all-male senior executive team. It is also important from a societal impact perspective to invest in women entrepreneurs, as they are significant contributors to innovation and economic growth.”
“Any serious shift towards more sustainable societies must include gender equality. At Green Box, we really believe it is high time to fully invest in ‘her’. Integrating a gender lens in social and corporate businesses can empower women especially young girls in developing countries. We need to remember that they are key to critical, sustainable development challenges: talent acquisition, workplace culture, and the need for holistic innovation.”
“As a tech VC investor, I can say that many of my fellow colleagues have been missing out on the opportunity of getting better returns from women-led businesses. On the one hand, we cannot blame the men for not having any clue about what women need. However, that brings us to the other issue - the lack of female venture investors who are more than capable of recognizing high-potential tech solutions targeting females that can provide good returns.
Having women investors don’t necessarily automatically lead to a proportional increase in funding for female entrepreneurs because the ratio of them among all entrepreneurs is still low. So unless the investment theses mandate funding female entrepreneurs, the organic share of startups with at least one female founder in a portfolio won’t exceed 15-20%, however, VC firms with female investors do have better chances of attracting female entrepreneurs to their portfolios. It is a fragile structure that needs to be carefully built by all the participating parties with a great share of attention shown to it over time.”
“Less than 10% of venture capital goes to women founders. This system-wide failure presents a huge opportunity for capital deployment. Women founders, while being underestimated, are working on innovative solutions and building scalable products. Polyvore, Glossier, Canva, and Houzz are great examples of companies that were started by women to solve a need in the market that no one else was tackling. If we don't invest in women and LGBTQ founders, while building emerging ecosystems, we're essentially defueling the rocketship of change as it's trying to take off.”
“For the last 3 years, Marham grew exponentially as a healthcare startup in Pakistan and one of the core reasons behind it is women. The power and passion of women on our team has moved mountains. Do you know who has benefited the most? Those women who couldn't find the right treatment for themselves. And who played the role in our massive organic growth and word of mouth? Those women who were helped and wanted to help others. What I know for sure is, women can grow and catalyze everything - from revenue numbers to the impact we created - I must say if we want to grow, gender lens investing is a decision every investor should make to thrive in the ecosystem.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hira Saeed joined Miller Center in July 2018 through a partnership with the US Embassy in Islamabad and Atlas Corps. Hira works as a GSBI Women’s Economic Empowerment Fellow to implement new research, initiatives, and projects to help advance women’s economic empowerment through GSBI programs globally and with a specific focus in the Middle East.