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 “Finance as Opportunity to Transform (Gendered) Social Systems.”
Reframe: Finance as Opportunity to Transform (Gendered) Social Systems
by Scott Elias
Can a motivated group of people change the way markets work for the better? As Margert Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” But would a gender lens make markets work better? What would be possible if investment decisions incorporated a gender lens? What new opportunities would be imagined if gender were positively factored into how we move capital? Can we even create a world in which analyzing gender when making an investment decision is as normative as assessing political stability or considering competition in an industry? Why would this world be desirable? Can gender-lens investing transform the way we make and move money while making a difference? Can it happen?
For certain audiences gender-lens investing may qualify as Impact Investing. For other audiences, a gender-lens may simply constitute a smarter way to maximize returns. Reframes, like all forms of communication, are contingent on targeted audiences. But regardless of how you frame gender-lens investing, when reframing finance as an opportunity to change gendered social systems the underlying goal is still the same: bending the traditional rules of finance, incorporating a gender-lens, and shaping markets and systems to create good. The practice of changing market systems and creating durable change is no easy task. It requires engaging with and throughout existing power dynamics that legitimate and sustain the status quo, the existing rules in place. It means thinking bigger and bolder than just impact investing, transcending the level of the enterprise. Ultimately, it means internalizing gender-lens investing as the work of durably reshaping how large-scale systems operate. Changing how entire systems function is an important social change lever, and, whether we speak about them as gendered or not, all social systems are indeed gendered. And if the financial system is gendered, if there is an underlying intersection between gender and access to capital, workplace equity, and products and services, than finance has the capacity to transform gendered social systems.
Gender-lens investing can be a tool for systems change. The key is making these underlying connections visible. Rather than a constraint, a gender lens is an opportunity to accelerate change, to transform gendered social systems. The term “gender-lens” at times evokes concerns regarding quotas and quality, culture and stereotypes. It is at times perceived as “soft” or “unnecessarily feminist,” limiting and less return-focused. But part of reframing gender-lens investing as a tool in a larger movement is reframing gender-lens investing as an opportunity capable of transcending these concerns, an opportunity to transform gendered social systems to create markets and system that improve gendered conditions. Given women’s centrality worldwide to economic development, health, education, and a strong civil society, gender-lens investing can illuminate opportunities and highlights risks, emphasizing the intersection between gender and access to capital, workplace equity, and products and services. By making a gender-lens normative, making gender as a category of analysis when making an investment decision socially accepted as a smart investment practice, we can begin intentionally changing markets and systems to accelerate social change.
To be sure, a gender-lens is not a panacea, but if investors begin to use gender as a category of analysis in company diligence, prioritizing bets on value opportunities in companies led by women, companies that promote gender equity, and companies that benefit women through products and services, gender-lens investing as a movement will be both a moral move and increasingly a smart financial convention. This movement will not be easy; it faces a number of obstacles, and perhaps its greatest challenge is making gender-lens a new norm, part of the conventional wisdom of finance, the prevailing common sense that informs investment decisions and practices. For if gender-lens investing is to be commonly accepted we must overcome the fatalism in finance that capital movements occur in some set or natural way. We must reject the idea that capitalism constitutes a single coherent economic configuration with iron rules. Finance has the opportunity to transform gendered social systems, but in order to capitalize on that opportunity, we must recognize that there are no natural laws to finance except the rules we as participants in the system choose to adhere to. We need to recognize that we need not wholly submit to so-called lords of finance or interpret the financial system as if it is our greedy master. Humans create markets. Humans create financial instruments. And if humans created the system humans control that system.
As a society, we collectively determine the course of our future and set the standards, norms, and policy that shape the systems that govern our way of life. Talking about the financial system as if it adheres to some pre-ordained science limits the role of human autonomy and decision-making in inventing our own future. Such a narrative conceals how collectively we have the agency to initiate change by altering micro-systems, reshaping markets, and generating ideas that challenge and evolve paradigms—particularly through cross sector coordination and mutually reinforcing activity. Part of reframing finance as opportunity to transform gendered social systems is revealing that reality, that opportunity. If we reframe the way we talk about finance and investments we can reconfigure the way we practice finance and investments. If we reconfigure the way we practice finance and investments we can change the circulation of capital within the financial system. And if we practice finance and investments with a gender lens, bringing greater focus and clarity to the intersection between gender and access to capital, workplace equity, and products and services, we can transform gendered social systems and change the way we make and move money while making a difference. As Joy Anderson likes to put it: “We made this shit up. We can change it.”
Read the white paper: Reframes as a Tool in a Social Movement