Criterion and Gender Lens Investing

Jay Owen SRI/ESG News, Beyond GDP


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Dear friends,

It was just over five years ago when Criterion began building the field of gender lens investing. Since then, we have worked with so many of you to create the reality of billions of dollars invested intentionally with a gender lens. Suzanne Biegel, Sarah Kaplan, and I came together in January to think through what it would take to fully institutionalize gender lens investing. There is much work to be done, from better data sharing infrastructure, to sharper media messages, to clearer metrics. There is a big to do list, but there are also dozens of recognized voices of gender lens investing and hundreds of organizations who claim it as part of their mission to ensure the work gets done. (These leaders will be coming together to work through this to do list at Convergence in September.)

One of the things I am most proud of in my own leadership is that over the past five years, we intentionally designed our work to build the field of gender lens investing, rather than be the field. In part because we didn’t see this field as our empire, we have been able to build a field efficiently, with less than one million dollars of philanthropy over five years. (There’s a white paper in there on how build a field).  I am grateful to every one of those donors who gave us the freedom to support the field with grace, inviting others to lead. And now, there are many leaders shaping and developing this field and we can with relative ease and great excitement, put a stake in the ground around a refined mission and shift from stewarding the field as a whole to playing a specific role in the field.

(Spoiler alert. Criterion’s realignment of our work means that the Convergence on gender lens investing in September will be our 16th and last Convergence. Join us for this historic event.)

In a strategic planning process over the past six months, Criterion honed its mission to focus on shifting what matters in economic decisions by changing who has power and influence in the work of reinventing the economy. (You can find a full copy of our new strategic plan here.) Driven by this mission, we will focus on research programs that demonstrate what is possible if gender matters in financial analysis, and education programs that equip people with the tools to integrate gender and finance and provide a place to practice designing financial structures for an economy that works for all.

If we are just counting women, directing the current rule set to women and girls, we are making progress, but we are not yet engaged in the deeper systems change required. We need to not simply count women, but value them. Finance is (like gender) one of the most powerful systems in the world for assigning value, defining what is of worth. And we know the deep and profound bias that is at work in that system. Companies led by women are undervalued, business practices that are gendered male are overvalued, and vast terrains of women’s productive activity is simply not seen. How do we change how gender is valued in finance? How should gender analysis inform due diligence in an early stage company, beyond the sex of the leader?  What is the sophisticated gender lens that informs broader trends in the financial markets? In analysis of a sector, such as energy and agriculture, what are the gender norms that are shaping patterns of investment? What is the deeper analysis of gender in financial decisions that not only makes an investor smarter, but also ensures that finance can be used as a tool for social change around the issues that are critical to women and girls?

Under the banner of (re)Value Gender, Criterion will build the methodology that incorporates gender analysis into financial analysis, we will do the research with institutional partners to create the proof points of what becomes possible when gender matters in finance, and we will provide the training and education so that this is not simply new math for those already at the table, but so that more feel equipped and permitted to engage in the work of reimagining the rules.

This plan builds on our strengths and creates a path for us us to scale our impact. This is what the road map looks like:

Research: We have been developing (re)Value Gender as a methodology over the past two years with the inestimable Katherine Collins. We are midstream on a research project on the correlations between women’s political leadership and the key factors of financial stability looked at in a municipal bond. Suzanne Biegel and I are finishing a white paper this summer on “upgrading your due diligence” with a gender lens. This paper is informed by a work we did with Grand Challenges Canada on their due diligence process on scaling health ventures. And, over the next few months you will hear more about our work with USAID in Asia as that launches this month. We are looking for additional research opportunities. Our primary caveat on any work is that the end result of the research needs to be public rather than proprietary. The field needs a bank of proof points and data to draw on and so we will work to amplify the results of this work as loudly as we can.

Education: We are starting the design this fall of two educational tools. The first is a design lab that is modeled after our day long Structure Lab. Imagine a base system of cards that lay out the components within finance that define how value is assigned. And then add to that a process of gender analysis that looks at what is overvalued, undervalued, or simply not seen. Like Structure Lab, these will be facilitated sessions that empower the participants with a new toolkit, but also provide a concrete place to practice integrating gender and finance. We are looking for places where we can pilot this new tool.

The second tool is a self-guided study process to be used in small groups. For years we struggled with you on how to build local ecosystems around gender lens investing. How could we keep this from becoming another field that could only be engaged by the few who could go to the national conferences? This self-study, distributed for free, will enable small groups – whether a book club or a local organization – to engage in questions of the intersection of gender and finance and then make a small investment. Places to practice this kind of thinking is critical to breaking down the divides of who sees themselves at the table with permission to shape the conversations about finance.

You will hear more over the coming weeks and months as we build out this work. We’ll be hiring, looking for partners on projects, and, of course, fundraising.

But as we close our chapter of stewarding the field, the most immediate change is that our last gender lens investing Convergence is right around the corner. So, that means if you want one more go at it or to finally get a chance to attend, register now. We’ll be using this last Convergence to scheme together for how to build the field as a whole as so many leaders are taking up the reins. We are already seeing wealth management firms providing the kind of education that the newcomer calls did. PowerShift at Oxford was an amazing convening of people working at the intersection of gender and finance. We see several firms emerging to play specific roles in shaping the field. Truly exciting stuff. Join us at Convergence to think about your own leadership in this exciting field.

Note, while this is our 16th and last Convergence at Criterion overall, our practices of convening within Convergence that so many of you have experienced will inform all of our programs moving forward as we continue to invite people to the table, to be able have power and influence in the work of reinventing the economy.

We look forward to continuing with you in this journey.