In 2013, intern Scott Elias reflected on 4 different reframes discussed at Convergence XII and considered the power of each reframe to bring about social change. His reflection and the reframes where documented in Reframes as a Tool in a Social Movement, which you can download here. Below he focuses on the reframe “Gender as an Opportunity (Not a Screen) in Finance.”

Reframe: Gender as an Opportunity (Not a Screen) in Finance

by Scott Elias

Is gender an opportunity or a screen? In the world of finance should gender be something to embrace or just another constraint investors should fear? The answer to that question reflects dominant paradigms about women and girls that are carried over into the field of gender lens investing. Gender lens investing overlaps gender and finance, which has led some to contend that a gender lens is another constraint, a screen that makes the world smaller instead of bigger. There are perceptions that women entrepreneurs are risk-averse, that investing in women is “high-risk,” and that women businesses are generally not ambitious or credit worthy. On the other hand, women are often considered “team builders” and women investors are sometimes perceived as more collaborative than their more competitive male counterparts. While some embrace gender lens investing as an extraordinary opportunity others dismiss gender lens investing as simply “too complicated.”

Yet whether you are talking about organizations that are looking for outsized financial returns or that are driving global social impact you are implicitly talking about a gender lens. When you’re talking about money and meaning or about impact and return, it’s imperative that you’re talking about a gender lens and actively moving one forward. The World Bank succinctly states that gender equality is smart economics; the Economist suggests that economic growth in the next decade will be lead by women; and Goldman Sachs suggests that investing in women supports a “virtuous cycle” in which economic growth and gender equality reinforce one another. That is, they suggest that gender is an opportunity.

In order to understand gender lens investing, and how gender is an opportunity, it is necessary to understand what a gender lens is. First and foremost: gender is a lens and not a screen. A lens is something that brings things into focus. Glasses are lens that focus the eye so that it can see things it otherwise would have missed, and a gender lens does the same thing in the world of finance and investments. A gender lens is not about making the world smaller by taking half the population of the table. It is about bringing focus to the intersection between gender and access to capital, workplace equity, and products and services. Gender lens investors use gender as a category of analysis when making investment decisions. It is about capitalizing on the intersection between gender and finance and investing. Whether one is targeting investments that increase access to capital for women entrepreneurs and businesses that have women in leadership positions, investments that promote gender equity in the workplace by moving capital in private sector companies with leading gender policies and distributions across the supply chain, or deploying capital to increase the number of products and services that benefit women and girls through socially responsible businesses that develop and offer these products and services, a gender lens is an opportunity for blended value. It is an opportunity to generate a financial return while intentionally improving social conditions. It is a means of making visible the hidden connections in a world already connected.

All of this suggests that a gender lens is a smart lens for investing. And to further demonstrate this point, data suggests that there is a difference in spending priorities between men and women, where 80 % of a woman’s incremental dollar of income goes towards her family’s education, health, and nutrition in comparison to 30-40 % of a man’s. Additionally, Harvard Business Review wrote that the more women on teams, the better the decisions that are made. Yet, despite evidence and data that suggests that a gender lens is an opportunity, there is a prevailing perception that investing in women entrepreneurs nets limited impact. The challenge is in turning what is perceived as high risk or not creditworthy into an opportunity for a remarkable market. And therein lies the beauty of reframes, of changing prevailing mindset, of capitalizing on opportunity.

Gender lens investing is in its infancy. It is simply the beginning. It requires a commitment to asking more questions and taking steps forward. It requires bringing greater focus and clarity to the intersection between gender and access to capital, workplace equity, and products and services. It requires a reframe that deconstructs the dominant paradigms about women and girls that render gender in investing a constraining screen, and constructs a paradigm that embraces gender as a lens, as an opportunity. It is about understanding the potential of reframing the conversation, taking the potential of a gender lens seriously, and both recognizing and embracing how gender in investing is one of the biggest underexplored opportunities for driving financial and social return.

Read the white paper: Reframes as a Tool in a Social Movement

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