Women in Impact Investing

There have been many articles and books written about the challenges for women in business and work-life balance – from Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” to Anne Marie Slaughter’s “Why women still can’t have it all.”

On the other hand, there is little written specifically about the intersection of women and their leadership roles as socially-responsible investors. We define impact investing as investing financial capital into financial products which aim for return and social or environmental positive impact. As an investor community, we wanted to explore our role as women in the sector, either as professionals or as asset owners…

What do women uniquely contribute to the movement of impact investing?

In March 2015, twenty five women and two men gathered together in Scotland at an event organized by Toniic, an impact investing membership-based organization, to discuss the role of women and impact investing. It was an exceptional group of women dedicated to using investments to build a better future.

Following from the inspirational conversations generated at this gathering we, as women working in the impact investing sector, were inspired to write this blog to share some of our reflections.

Over the next 40 years, $41 trillion of wealth transfer is expected around the world. Morgan Stanley stated that by 2025, women will control or manage roughly 2/3rds of US private wealth. This is a significant shift and drives home the importance of engaging and acknowledging the powerful force that the women who will be inheriting this wealth can play in changing the face of investing.

At Toniic, one of our goals is to inspire conversations to take place around the world so that women feel as though they have strong support structures to become active impact investors. A number of the women participating in the gathering in Scotland have been working in the impact investing space for a number of years and were open and vulnerable about some of the challenges they were facing, such as balancing their work and family life or facing gender bias. Although this is socially-minded sector, and in appearance egalitarian, we realized that many of the biases of the mainstream financial or corporate sectors also exist within the sector of impact investing. And most of the decision-makers in family offices, impact investing funds or firms were men, despite a few organizations such as Acumen. If we are not self-aware, we could replicate the status-quo. It was further highlighted how rare it was for women, even as investors in a company, to be board directors and particularly chairwomen of boards. And of course, many stories came about as to the lack of support of women towards women. In many cases, we came to realize our own biases against women as entrepreneurs, managers or investors. As a group, we committed to become alert to these biases and commit to changing these dynamics.

At the top, women often feel as though they have to act as men in order to thrive in male-driven environments. Rather than women feeling the need to conform to the prevailing culture, it is important that women recognize the unique skills that make them strong impact investors. Some of these attributes include empathy, collaboration and being intrinsically socially minded. Also, if EQ is higher in women than men, this should bode well for women as early-stage impact investors, which at its core is about evaluating people and management teams.

We discussed different ways in which we could support each other, including recommending each other for speaking positions, mentoring female millennials, coaching women on negotiating skills and supporting women to ‘own their own power.’

Ingrid Stange who has been at the forefront of the impact investing sector in Norway argues that “women own half the sky and therefore we should make sure that women own half the world.” By supporting one another, we believe this can become our new reality.

Gender Lens investing, or investing capital in women-run companies, is also a key component in empowering women as business owners. There are numerous initiatives, such as the Girl Effect, that help to unlock greater capital for women and girls. There is also a need for an increasing number of platforms and products to support gender lens investing.

None of this deflects from the essential role that men play in impact investing. It is furthermore essential that men engage women more proactively in this sphere and also tale part in this conversation.

A large part of the vision at Toniic is that anyone can be an impact investor. Women, no matter in what wealth bracket, can play a critical role in directing investments towards socially-minded causes. And better yet, we are convinced that this sector cannot take off and become mainstream if women, as asset owners, do not get increasingly involved.

So how can more women be actively engaged in impact investing? What can we do to unlock more capital into women-run companies? What new products could be created to help support women impact investors?

We are very interested to hear your perspectives on this. Please write your comments below. And join our movement now! @Toniic

We also invite you to view the video from this retreat, entitled Toniic Women of Impact.

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by Jenna Nicholas, Stephanie Cohn Rupp