Through a Gender Lens

Like Alice and her looking glass, sometimes I think I’m so cool. Looking glass or gender lens, it can be humbling.

I was very fired up about the Criterion Ventures Convergence gathering on gender lens investing last month. It makes so much sense – invest in companies that benefit women (in one of 3 ways: through workplace equity, access to capital, or by creating products and services that benefit women. I’ll offer some inspiring examples coming in a future blog). Make money. Create social impact. Change the world by improving the lives of women and girls. I’m a woman. What’s not to like?

I learned about it the concept at a Women’s Funding Network conference (which Catalytic Women proudly sponsored) in May of this year. So, naturally, I figured that everyone else must already know about it.

Then, in that magical manner of serendipity, I was invited to a gathering by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute (WPI) of Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, hosted by a remarkable board member in her home near Boston while I was nearby for Convergence. Studies about women’s influence in giving? Animated discussion about women’s economic power related to wealth and philanthropy? I ask again… What’s not to like?

But here’s where I learned that I’m really not so cool.

Now that I’ve seen the light about gender lens investing, I assume I’m a late adopter to what everyone else already knows. I’m spouting with enthusiasm at the WPI gathering about fascinating statistics on women’s impact in wealth and raising families out of poverty. And then I think to ask… Have you heard the term “gender lens investing?” And someone much more experienced than I replied: No.

I hate jargon. I’m always the annoying one in the audience demanding that people to explain acronyms and asking the dumb questions. Yet I got sucked into it.

To me, it’s such a reminder that there is amazing opportunity to raise awareness of women’s economic influence at any level. It is wonderful that many people don’t yet know what gender lens investing (or impact investing, or microfinance, or …) is. These are high-leverage giving and investing tools that make sense – especially to women – because of the brilliant way that they integrate return on investment (ROI) with social return. It’s a way that we can bring our values to our wealth and kill two birds with one stone (forgive me, former colleagues at The Nature Conservancy).

We’re busy. When we can find a tool that makes sense for our life and makes sense for the world around us chances are, it’s a good thing to explore.

Learning is iterative. There are so many new ways to give that don’t look like traditional philanthropy. Why not play around with them and learn?

I was honored to attend the Convergence conference. And honored to attend the WPI dinner. And both were fun – to be in that murky, messy place of defining innovation, impact and solutions through a different lens – call it what you will, gender or otherwise.