The Conversation: Investing with a Gender Lens

by Diana Drake

More than ever, investors are using their money to improve the lives of women and girls across the globe. They are supporting companies, funds and types of investments that focus on women, with the goal of championing women business leaders, as well as products and services directed at women. This, in a nutshell, is gender lens investing.

Teen entrepreneur Mikaila Ulmer, featured here in Knowledge@Wharton High School, could well be an example of gender lens investing. The 15-year-old founder of Me & the Bees Lemonade, a successful private company that makes and sells bottled lemonade and donates a percentage of the profits to save the honey bees, received a $60,000 investment from Shark Tank star entrepreneur Daymond John and an $810,000 infusion of capital in 2017 from a group of NFL football players and businessmen. It’s likely that Mikaila’s role as a strong young woman entrepreneur influenced these investors’ decisions.

Eye on the Investor

In financial services, investing with a gender lens typically means buying shares in a mutual fund or other fund that picks stocks (shares of ownership in a public company ) with the goal of advancing the interests of women, while also making investment returns. Funds are pools of outside investments that are managed by professional fund managers who decide how to invest the money. “There’s a lot of interest in gender-lens investing, and it’s more than just a trend,” said Seema Hingorani, managing director at Morgan Stanley Investment Management in New York City. “Lots of capital is going in this direction, billions and billions of dollars.”

Hingorani spoke to high school students participating in the 2020-2021 Wharton Global High School Investment Competition as part of our Meet the Experts series. While she champions investing directly in women entrepreneurs and businesses, Hingorani also wants to see more women on the other side of gender-lens investing – among the professionals who make the investment decisions.

She – and many others – are convinced that gender-diverse investment teams get better outcomes.

“One of the reasons I joined Morgan Stanley was to build my fund, which invests in women fund managers [who manage how money is invested in specific funds],” noted Hingorani, who also started the nonprofit Girls Who Invest. “A lot of men manage money in our industry and they don’t have the same viewpoint that women do. If you’re going to invest in a woman-owned business or a business that focuses on creating products and services for women and girls, and you have no women on your investment team, do you think you’re going to make great investment decisions? When you have a woman on your investment team, you can evaluate that business for its true potential.”

“How are you going to perform well and serve your customers well when you only see a certain part of the world?” — Seema Hingorani, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley Investment Management

Asset managers like Hingorani who are building gender lens investing networks are watching this growing market closely. Here’s some of the latest research:

  • The Wharton Social Impact Initiative at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and the consulting firm, Catalyst At Large, recently published Project Sage 3.0, a new report about gender-lens investing that looks at data from the field through 2019 drawn from a survey of more than 140 funds. The report focuses on funds into which outside investors can put money. The co-authors of the report, Social Impact’s Sandi M. Hunt and Catalyst’s Suzanne Biegel, talked about it during their Dollars and Change podcast.
  • Gender lens investing in the financial sector has really grown in the last few years. A total of 138 Wall Street investors, including private equity and venture capital firms, have raised a cumulative $4.8 billion through 2019 for specific funds that invest in gender-diverse teams and generate a positive impact on women. That figure is up from 87 firms that raised $2.2 billion through 2018, and 58 firms that raised $1.1 billion through 2017. And the number of actual gender lens funds grew 59% in 2019. “I get notes from people every week telling me about a new fund they’re launching” with a gender lens, said Biegel. “The 2020 data makes this whole thing much bigger.”
  • The report found that gender lens investment supports more than women entrepreneurs, it also supports different types of companies and industry sectors, including health care, online education, sustainable food systems, climate change, reusable packaging, deep technology like lidar lasers for drones, cleaner oceans and cleaner water. “I’m hoping that people will see that whatever issue they care about, they can do [gender lens investing],” said Biegel.
  • Funds are thinking about all kinds of diversity. Among the funds surveyed in Sage 3.0, 45% consider gender as one of several key impact priorities of equal importance. Other priorities in their investment criteria (what they think about as they consider where to invest their money) include racial/ethnic diversity (24.6%) and LGBTQIA diversity (7.2%). Biegel said the widening commitment to diversity is good news, but she also noted the bad news. “There were a lot of funds in this study that had no women of color, no people of color in fund management or on their investment committee.”

Hingorani is dedicated to making progress in this area. “Your customer base is so diverse. Your supply chain is so diverse. If you have people making investment or business decisions who are themselves not diverse, how are you going to perform well and serve your customers well when you only see a certain part of the world?”

Seema Hingorani is working to have more women fund managers in her industry.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Why is Seema Hingorani convinced that diverse investment teams get better outcomes?

More investors are using capital to get an impact return. What does this mean, and can you think of other examples of impact investing beyond gender-lens investing? Visit the Related KWHS Stories tab to explore the concepts.

As an investor, would you invest your money to empower women? Why or why not? If you have done gender-lens investing, tell us your story in the comment section of this article.

2 comments on “The Conversation: Investing with a Gender Lens

  1. I would invest in women blindfolded.

    I grew up in a family that never set me limits regarding the business environment, so now that I’m fully aware of the gender issues faced there it stunts me how big is the global issue.

    The reason why I would invest in women is because they usually have a higher emotional intelligence quotient than men, giving them clear advantage in the business world since now a days everyone is worried abut the so called “soft skills” –an attribute ingrained in their motherly nature. In the book “Nice girls still don’t get the corner office” Phd Lois P Frankel talks about the reasons why a lot women still haven’t achieve high positions in organizations and remarks how one of these is because their environment hasn’t told them they are capable of achieving that.

    If more women start investing in their own gender that will be a statement of empowerment, not only for the benefited parties, but for the future generations to come.

  2. Hi Paulina,

    Your family should meet my family. Like you, my family has always spoken about working hard to chase down one’s dreams. They have never separated “him” from “her” or even hinted about a gender issue when considering one’s goals. I know that as long as I put in the time and effort, I have a good chance at becoming successful. However, as this gender lens article notes, we need more gender diversity in corporate America, especially in managerial or supervisor positions. Hingorani makes a great point about how investment decisions can be improved if a woman is behind that lens. Those who wish to invest in women-owned businesses or women-related products and services need to push for gender fairness in their boardrooms. I haven’t read Frankel’s book yet, but I would definitely agree that despite all the recent diversity gains we’ve seen in the past few years, there are still many environments where women are not seen in higher level positions.

    One of my recent speech and debate pieces was about women in education, especially in the sciences. I discovered that women who love science encounter social and institutionalized barriers at an early age. Professor Carli from Wellesley College believes the underrepresentation of women correlates to the perception that they are innately inferior to men. This prejudgment carries over to university faculty reviews and human resources promotion opportunities. Per a 2020 California Institute of Technology review, only about 20 to 30% of women are awarded PhD degrees in the physical sciences. A more recent report from the Congressional Joint Economic Committee shows that women make up only 17 percent of specialists in engineering.

    But instead of just complaining, I totally agree with you that as women, we have to start believing in ourselves. In the business world, we have to invest in ourselves by learning how to convince venture capitalists to trust and value our ideas or startups. And in order to transform the STEM workforce environment, we need to visualize ourselves as pharmaceutical advisory leaders, medical chiefs of staff, and Silicon Valley CEOs. We need to transcend stereotypes and fight the status quo.

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