Deploying Gender Lens Investing to Create Inclusive Economic Opportunities in Latin America
Gender lens investing – an investment strategy that uses capital to generate a financial return and advance gender equality – has the potential to drive inclusive economic opportunities for women, their families and communities in Latin America. It enables investors to support businesses in the region that integrate various gender equity strategies into their operations, such as increasing the number of women in leadership positions, driving workplace equity, or promoting products and services that benefit women and girls.
The need for these efforts is clear: In Latin America, only 5% of investment fund capital goes to companies led by women, and just 14% of Latin American companies are owned by women. In light of the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on women, it is now more important than ever to deploy innovative strategies like gender lens investing to advance gender equality and create stronger communities in Latin America. It’s also important to recognize that these strategies don’t only benefit women: According to reports from McKinsey, achieving gender equality worldwide would add $12 trillion to the global economy, and companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their leadership teams are 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability than those in the lowest quartile. Without a doubt, the fact that women entrepreneurs continue to have fewer opportunities is detrimental to businesses, communities and entire economies.
What will it take to successfully drive gender lens investments and advance women’s equality in the region? Pro Mujer – a social enterprise that seeks to promote gender equity in Latin America through investment in women entrepreneurs, training and free health care services – is expanding our work to support women around the continent, and more recently in the Northern Triangle. Below, I’ll share three emerging insights that will be crucial to the success of gender lens investing in the region.
1. For maximum impact, investors must create a formal gender lens investment strategy
One of the most common misconceptions about gender lens investing is that it is exclusively focused on financing women-led businesses. In fact, it can also involve strategies aimed at supporting women and their families in other ways, by providing or facilitating investment in companies that:
- Promote gender equity in the workplace through internal policies.
- Offer products or services that substantially improve the lives of women and girls.
- Measure their impact through gender-related social, environmental and governance indicators.
- Are part of professional sectors that employ a higher percentage of women, such as education.
These multiple potential approaches offer several options to investors aiming to create formal gender lens strategies that can maximize the gender-related impacts of their capital.
2. Investors must understand the needs of women-led businesses before creating a gender lens strategy
In Latin America, many investors tend to focus on funding male-dominated industries, such as technology and financial services – a practice that leaves out many women-owned enterprises. In addition, women entrepreneurs in Latin America have limited access to traditional financing options and investment networks, making it harder for them to secure capital for their businesses. Yet investors often don’t realize how important it is to address these challenges in their gender lens strategies, in order to reach excluded women entrepreneurs and serve their unique needs.
How many women dream of running their own businesses, or of becoming leaders in their professional fields? Without a doubt, there are many. But how many do we actually see occupying those positions, or working in traditionally male areas such as technology and engineering? It is paradoxical that a proliferation of research has shown the profitability of investing in businesses headed by women, and the tendency of women investors to take greater risks in the pursuit of social benefit, yet we continue to live in a reality where these women have fewer opportunities.
3. Standardized data collection and benchmarks are critical to advancing gender equality through investing
In Latin America, 90% of investors track data on the gender diversity of their investees’ leadership teams, but only 41% collect gender-based data on the beneficiaries of the businesses they invest in. Furthermore, even when data is being collected, there is a lack of standardization in impact measurement tools and benchmarks that would allow investors to compare different investees or strategies in order to evaluate their relative success. And few investors have metrics for measuring the overall impact of their own gender lens strategies. As a result, it is difficult to measure the extent of the social impact that gender lens investing has in terms of advancing gender equality in Latin America.
This challenge will be among the topics discussed at the GLI LATAM 2022 Forum, taking place November 7 -10 in Antigua, Guatemala. As a leader in promoting gender equity in the region, Pro Mujer is launching the event to position gender lens investment in Latin America as an effective mechanism to reduce investment gaps, increase women-led companies’ profitability and promote the entire region’s economic growth.
The Forum will bring together investors, entrepreneurs, scholars, representatives of the private and public sectors, and specialists at a global level, including Rigoberta Menchú, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, it will be carried out hand-in-hand with the FLII CA&C conference, promoted by Alterna – one of the region’s most important impact investment events. Addressing five themes, Missing Middle, Digital Equity, Forced Migration, Care Economy and Health, the Forum seeks to be a platform for learning, networking, the exchange of ideas, and the co-creation of concrete solutions to advance the region towards gender equity.
When deployed properly, gender lens investing has the potential to channel more resources to women in Latin America – including in the Northern Triangle – and to support their active involvement and growth within the workforce. These efforts can lead to multiple positive impacts on women and their communities, and can directly address a major cause of migration from the region, by driving inclusive economic opportunities that increase gender equality.
Gender lens investment contributes to improving women’s professional development as leaders in their fields, while strengthening regional economies and creating inclusive opportunities. Each and every one of us has an essential role in making gender equity a reality, and the moment to be active participants is now.
Photo credit: WOCinTech Chat