The emergence of gender lens investing in recent years has punctuated a larger global trend towards gender equality. Of course, there remains much work to be done. But gender lens investing, and the impact metrics associated with it, may be the key which spurs true gender parity into reality sooner rather than later.
Gender lens investing is an investment strategy which takes into account the social impact on women of an investment, alongside the financial returns. Suzanne Biegel, a pioneer in the field, breaks it down further (full podcast here):
Gender lens investing can be defined in a few different ways. One is to think about how you integrate gender analysis into financial analysis to get to a better outcome in any investment. Another way is to think about how we use capital intentionally to achieve positive impacts on women and girls.
You might think about women’s access to capital. You might think about products and services that positively affect women and girls or take advantage of the women’s market. You might think about where women show up across the value chain of a business, in governance, in leadership, in supply chains and distribution channels all the way through to end customers. And you might be thinking about how we use our capital intentionally to shift structural gender inequality.
Impact metrics are, of course, essential for impact investors in any sector. This means that in the realm of gender lens investing there also needs to be a language for impact accountability. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of those metrics and how they enable such accountability to take place.
Gender Lens Investing: Improving Conditions for Women and Girls
A cascade of factors are at play in any given context which affect (for better or for worse) conditions for women and girls around the globe. Gender lens investors must examine these factors and determine the right metrics to look for during their due diligence process.
Because any investor is going to look for returns on their investment, and to measure the impact returns through a gender lens strategy, there needs to be metrics in place to track that. So, let’s examine the metrics landscape in gender lens investing. What metrics might gender lens investors look for?
These metrics require a deeper due diligence process and their relevance is entirely up to the investor. They also lean toward those gender lens investors who are looking to tackle issues related to equality in the workplace (as opposed to, for example, girls access to education).
Companies with a positive track record, current standing, and active policies to ensure equal pay in the workplace will be more attractive to gender lens oriented investors. In addition to keeping accurate pay data, now certifications even exist to demonstrate your company excels at pay equity.
The United States is well behind the rest of the world when it comes to parental leave policies. A positive effect of the gender lens investing movement may be the mobilization of capital towards companies with more family-friendly policies.
Assessment in this area is largely comparative, requiring investors to examine company policies and data with competitors and regulatory minimums. Due diligence may also include looking at the percentage of employees who utilize the policy, how it is perceived, and what effect (positive or otherwise) it has had on the business.
Safe place to work
This can be measured by the strength and effectiveness of existing policies to prevent and/or deal with, for example, sexual harassment in the workplace. On a more numbers-oriented level, the amount of reported incidents and rate of increase/decrease can also be examined.
Many of these metrics serve those gender lens investors looking to invest in mission-driven companies working to improve the conditions of women and girls in areas such as access to education, healthcare, general human rights, etc.
It is also likely that gender lens investors will also come armed with expectations for indicators related to the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically goal #5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The indicators are a fairly comprehensive encapsulation of the areas of need for this issue and can easily be adapted to the due diligence/tracking process for investors and investees.
Another popular source of metrics is the IRIS catalogue. Some specific metrics pertinent to a gender lens investor may be:
Percent Female Ownership (OI2840): “Percentage of the organization that is female-owned, as of the end of the reporting period”
Gender Wage Equity (OI1855): “Ratio of the average wage paid during the reporting period to female employees of the organization for a specified position.”
School Enrollment: Female (PI1081): "Number of female students enrolled as of the end of the reporting period, both full-time and part-time, where each discrete student is counted regardless of number of courses."
As with the SDGs, the catalogue offers a comprehensive place to start, and can be customized as desired.
A way forward
To be clear, the path here is not to peruse metrics and decide from there. Before exploring impact metrics for gender lens investing, any investor or funder must be clear about the specific needs in the impact area that he or she is trying to address. That’s the jumping off point.
That clarity can help drive how to mobilize capital. At the due diligence stage (and follow-up with existing portfolio, of course) impact metrics shine a light on the progress that is being made (hopefully).
To get started with your impact metrics for gender lens investing, check out Sopact's Impact Cloud. Among other features, you'll get to dive into a customizable database which includes every impact metric that has ever existed!