Written by Lucy Soto Tuesday, October 02 2012
All it takes is a shift in how we see the world, in what we prioritize.
Do that, says Joy Anderson and a growing league of people who think like her, and we can expand the horizon for more than half the world’s population, fundamentally change financial markets - and make money.
It’s called gender lens investing, and it is part of a larger money-and-meaning movement linked to socially responsible investing, a way of harnessing capitalism to direct the power of the market to make a social impact. In this case, in ways to benefit women and girls.
The movement is part of the core work for Criterion Institute, a Connecticut-based think tank created by Anderson, a former high school teacher turned serial entrepreneur, to, well, change the world.
She says gender lens investing isn’t just about going to companies and investors to ask them to screen their investments and portfolios for a magic subset of opportunities that are good for women. That would be making the world “smaller,” Anderson says.
Instead, it’s about looking at everything from a new perspective: How are products made and marketed to women and girls? How progressive are a company’s policies on pay, training, career advancement and access to family leave? And how smart are the policies that give women opportunities for and access to capital? A portfolio with a gender lens could include companies with women on their boards or in top management to companies that offer a financial return for investors while also providing affordable housing for single working mothers or safe cookstoves for women in developing nations.
“If you had a gender lens you would see opportunities others don’t see. It would be an advantage; you would be smarter.”
Our basic financial systems, how we trade and structure debt and the “scary” world of finance are all just systems we made up over time, Anderson says. “These aren’t naturally inherited systems of how it has to work,” she says. “We are not victims totally of how the financial systems work… We can change the rules.”
And investing in women is just a good bet, says Lisa Hall. She is president and CEO of the Calvert Foundation, a nonprofit formed from mutual fund manager Calvert Investments and the Ford, McArthur and Mott foundations. Early this year, Hall’s Calvert Foundation launched WinWin, Women Investing in Women Initiative, which is raising $20 million to invest and loan to groups and projects that create opportunities for women and that help them become financially stable. The minimum investment is $20.
“The facts show that investing in women is smart economics,” Hall says in a video describing the work. “When you look at the data in countries where 10 percent more girls go to school, the GDP rises by 3 percent. When you look at farming, when women own the exact same amount as men, they are able to increase the crop yield by 10 percent.”
Beyond a program like WinWin, Margot Kane, who directs strategic initiatives for the Calvert Foundation, says we need a culture change and that every organization should be focused, at least in part, on women’s equity and development.
“There is no excuse,” she says in a video release about gender lens investing. “We are half the world. It shouldn’t be a special kind of investing. It should just be investing. Investing is as impactful an activity as consuming, as voting. It really is voting with your dollars.”
A study released a few months ago by CreditSuisse analyzing the performance of 2,360 companies around the globe during the last six years showed public boards with at least one woman had a higher rate of return for investors than those without women. The average return on equity for the companies in the study with women on their boards was 16 percent versus 12 percent for those without, and the difference in net income was 14 percent for companies with women, compared with 10 percent for those without.
It’s not a new message. In 2009, the book Women Want More by Michael Silverstein and Kate Sayre, proposed that an emerging $5 trillion opportunity existed for companies that understood and responded to women’s need for time, value and emotional connections. Expanding on a 12,000-woman survey by Boston Consulting Group that included 22 countries, the book said women were the driving force behind $12 trillion in global consumer discretionary spending.
Criterion Institute calls it the “women effect,” the multiplying social and financial returns that result when women are economic leaders. In fact, the firm’s Women Effect Investments Initiative is working on beating all the philanthropic and investment bushes to mobilize support for gender lenses.
“We’re field soldiers. We steward this movement,” says Anderson, who in 2011 was ranked on of the 100 most creative people in business by Fast Company magazine. “We raise the issue. We make resources available.” And her group of about 50 connected volunteers, which she hopes to grow to 1,000 in the next few years, works with leaders in investing, entrepreneurship and philanthropy to mold their gender lens and spread their gospel.
“We can change the rules of finance, and we can change how society treats women,” says Anderson.
Criterion last month conducted a personalized, invitation-only workshop they call a “convergence” in Connecticut for about 50 people. It has no line-up of speakers or break-out sessions but focuses instead on a series of tailor-made conversations for investors, philanthropists, fund managers and others.
The institute is launching a local model soon in eight cities that will convene local leaders who have a passion around gender lens investing. The cities, Anderson says are: London, Vancouver, San Francisco, New York, Dallas, Asheville, Boston and Minneapolis.
Anderson says the core of her work at Criterion comes from her belief in the sense of possibility.
“I’m a pixie of possibility,” she laughs from her home in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and 13-year-old daughter. She was preparing to fly out to New York the next day and then to San Francisco and Vancouver. “I wander around and say, ‘No, really, we could make up something different.’ That’s what drives me.”
More women transforming the investment world
Typically, we picture nuns in convents, church or schools, but a determined subset of these religious women is taking on Wall Street for the greater good.
Studies show that monetary riches don't translate to a wealth of personal fulfillment, but Suzanne Durbin of GV Financial Advisors helps her clients invest in their happiness.
The youngest and first woman to be a partner at Goldman Sachs, Jackie Zehner now serves as the CEO of Women Moving Millions, which aims to to mobilize unprecedented resources for women and girls.
Lucy Soto worked as a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution for nearly a decade. Before that she worked for the Associated Press. Born in Medellin, Colombia, she grew up in Greenville, S.C., and now chases after her four children in Atlanta.