Jaclyn Berfond

Why Financial Institutions Should Close the Gender Data Gap : In 2011, Women’s World Banking launched the Gender Performance Initiative to address this gap

Women’s World Banking (WWB) has long advocated for access to financial products and services for women regardless of their income level. To do this more effectively, though, we need better data on women’s financial lives. That’s why we were particularly inspired by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speech at Gallup on Closing the Gender Data Gap. Her point could not have been clearer: “Just as investing in women and gender equality has a multiplying effect that brings about positive results for entire societies, investing in collecting and analyzing data on women and gender equality can exponentially increase those benefits.” We could not agree more.

Secretary Clinton rightly pointed out that we are in the midst of a data revolution and that “technological advances of this century give us a chance to gather unprecedented amounts and types of information.” But how can we leverage these advances, this data revolution, to improve financial services for the poor, and ultimately the lives of the women (and men) who receive them, if we don’t have the capability to collect “good” data?

In 2011, WWB launched our Gender Performance Initiative to develop gender-based indicators for measuring how well we are serving women. These indicators will enable financial institutions to better understand the economic behavior and needs of low-income women, and create products and services that meet those needs. Further, this initiative will allow the financial industry as a whole to demonstrate outcomes for women and their households, and to ultimately build the business case that women are valuable customers, employees, and investees, as well as catalysts for social and economic change. As Secretary Clinton put it, “if we’re serious about narrowing the gender gap and helping more girls and women, then we must get serious about gathering and analyzing the data that tell the tale.”

To this end, WWB – with support from the Citi Foundation – is using lessons learned through our Gender Performance Initiative to explore data quality in the financial sector. We want to understand how financial institutions can capture better client information, and ensure that this information is properly analyzed and reported—both internally to inform strategic management decisions, and externally to demonstrate organizational values. The private sector has already done this successfully; we want to apply that experience to a historically overlooked segment: low-income women.

Secretary Clinton presented the inspiring example of Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), who used data to bring to public view the millions of women working in the informal economy in India. Through this data, Bhatt was able to affect government policy on home-based work, and establish new employment condition standards for these women. As Bhatt is one of the founding members of Women’s World Banking, her story – and the message of using data to effect change – is particularly resonant for us.

Like Secretary Clinton, we also believe that data, especially good data “not only measures progress, it inspires it.”

Jaclyn Berfond is senior associate at Women’s World Banking, where she manages knowledge and innovation programs for the WWB Network.

Image credit: The Edlers

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