Billionaire Robert F. Smith recently delivered the commencement address at Morehouse College, an all-male, historically black college in Atlanta. Most commencement speakers impart wisdom about following dreams, giving back, working hard, and so on. But Smith brought a little something extra to his talk: a pledge to pay all of the 396-person graduating class’s student debt (about $40 million dollars).
No doubt, many members of the Morehouse class of 2019 desperately needed this help. But it turns out that women, and particularly black women, are more likely to need student debt relief than men, according to a comprehensive study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW). One reason is that in 2019 women will earn 57 percent of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. It’s a remarkable shift from just a few decades ago when women trailed men in educational attainment. Unfortunately, this achievement has come at a steep cost, literally, as women owe $929 million—or roughly two-thirds—of the $1.46 trillion in U.S. student debt.
The election of Donald Trump has sparked a wave of political activism never seen before, particularly among progressive donors.
According to the Center for Responsive Politic’s data, the top 154 donors spent a combined total of over $700 million this election cycle, with Democrats and progressives spending an estimated total of $327 million in this election, and Republicans and conservatives spending an estimated $350 million.
While the Center for Responsive Politics is reporting that this year’s midterms were by far the most expensive in history, with a large share of that spending coming from the right, another large share of that spending involved progressive women donors opening their wallets to fund the protection of key civil liberties including reproductive rights, health care, and social inclusion.
Taking the most recent data from the Center for Responsive Politics, I’ve parsed out the top women donors to progressive causes and candidates. Most of these women gave with their partners, so their decisions to give to progressive causes likely ranged in terms of how much the giving was driven by one or the other in the partnership. The important point here is that women are getting more influential in political giving, both within couples and independently, and in no other election cycle has that been more evident. Women donated an estimated 36% of the funds that fueled the 2018 midterm elections, and yes, that is a big deal.
TOP 5 WOMEN DONORS TO DEMOCRATIC AND PROGRESSIVE CAUSES AND CANDIDATES
1. Katherine A. Taylor (Kat Steyer): Along with husband Tom Steyer, Kat Steyer contributed over $50.7 million in combined hard and soft money going to Democratic and liberal causes and candidates. Tom and Kat Steyer are the founders of the TomKat Foundation, which focuses heavily on financial inclusion (they also run one of the most progressive banks in the nation lending to those who might not otherwise be able to get capital). Kat Steyer also focuses on food and nutrition and funds FoodCorp, which goes into public schools across the nation to help them improve food quality and teach about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
2. Marilyn Simons: In partnership with her husband, James Simons, Marilyn Simons contributed $18.9 million to progressives and Democrats this election cycle. In their foundation work, Jim and Marilyn Simons focus on science and math as well as issues related to Autism (they have family members who have struggled with Autism).
3. Deborah J. Simon: Ms. Simon gave $8.9 million to Democrats and liberal causes for the midterm elections. The daughter of a real estate company magnate, Ms. Simon chairs the Simon Youth Foundation (www.syf.org), a public charity that operating in 13 states to help at-risk high school students stay in school. Ms. Simon is also the founder of The Deborah Joy Simon Foundation, a private foundation making grants for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, and educational purposes.
4. Cari Tuna: Along with partner Dustin Moskovitz (co-founder of Facebook), Cari Tuna made $6.3 million in donations to Democrats and liberal causes for the midterm elections. Tuna and Moskovitz are the co-founders of Good Ventures, where Tuna oversees the Open Philanthropy Project, which seeks to improve grantmaking with more effectiveness.
With every day in America bringing news of regressive political changes that will negatively impact women, it’s important for those who want to increase gender equality to explore different strategies for reaching women who need resources. One strategy that recently caught my eye was Grameen America’s announcement that, in celebration of its 10-year anniversary in the U.S., it would enter the fray of impact investing and disburse an added $11 million in capital in microloans to low-income women across the country. With this new fund, over a five-year period, Grameen will make $140 million in loans to low-income women who are struggling to get a foothold in the U.S. economy as entrepreneurs.
One of our goals at Philanthropy Women is to explore different ways to invest in reducing the gender gap and building a better economy — ways that operate in both philanthropy and in regular business markets. Alongside gender lens grantmaking, progressive women donors also have another important way they can deploy their capital for gender justice: gender lens investing.
One new investment instrument that recently came to our attention is BRAVA Investments, headed by CEO Nathalie Molina Niño, with partners Trevor Neilson and J. Todd Morley. BRAVA is not primarily focused on supporting women owned start-ups or getting more women into the c-suite of corporations (though this is something they look at), but on investing in industries that economically benefit employees or consumers that are disproportionately women.
“I don’t think investing in women will become mainstream and be taken seriously until we prove that it is lucrative,” said Molina Niño, in a recent phone interview with Philanthropy Women.
Founded in August of 2016, BRAVA brings together Molina Niño’s expertise in large-scale business development and operational growth, with a value-based approach to investing that contrasts sharply with what many other gender lens investors are doing today.
Where did Molina Niño get the idea for her unique approach? To introduce her reasons for developing BRAVA’s approach, she referenced a recent study by Project Sage, which rounded up 58 gender lens investing instruments for a detailed analysis. Molina Niño said she did similar research in preparing for the launch of BRAVA.
“I did a mini-version of Project Sage a couple of years ago,” said Molina Niño. “What I saw was that a lot of my friends and colleagues were starting funds for women and they were struggling to raise cash, so they were these little micro funds worth like $2 million to $15 or $20 million tops. And they were all focused on early stage, very early stage, and higher risk. And they were doing it in the traditional venture capital way, where you invest in 100 companies and you hope that 10 of them will at least provide some return and one or two will really take off.” But Molina Niño didn’t want to take that approach.
“I wanted to do later stage investing, and I noticed nobody in the gender space was doing that,” she said. She liked later stage investing because it meant lower risk, and she also liked being more attractive to large scale institutional investors.
“For me it has always been about scale.,” said Molina Niño. “Even if you’re doing amazing work, but you’re doing it with $10 million a year, that’s pretty small potatoes. It’s never going be part of a big endowment or a big pension fund, it’s never going to be something that moves the needle in a big way. So for me, scale was important, as well as investing in companies that I think we can grow, and not expecting 90% of my companies to go bust.”
Another thing Molina Niño noticed, when she looked around at colleagues in gender lens investing, was that nearly all of the gender lens investing instruments created over the past 10 years are dominated by white women. “Even though I know many of the people who started these funds, and so I believe it’s in no way intentional, but it’s as though somebody wrote a memo and said, ‘Okay people, we’re only investing in white women.'”
So that was another challenge for Molina Niño. “Women of color get .1 % of venture capital,” she said. “You don’t hear many people talking about that.”
Molina Niño wanted to change that, but she also saw some problems in taking an approach of primarily funding women-led start-ups, since that also had limitations in terms of impact. “At BRAVA what we do is, we consider investing in women not to mean necessarily investing only in women entrepreneurs,” she said.
By way of example of the kind of business BRAVA is tracking, Molina Niño described a company called Honor in San Francisco that is a platform for matching people with elder care professionals. “They do a great job of building trust, because the site helps you find people who are vetted, and they have a great reputation for that. Part of how they got that reputation is by attracting and retaining their talent. ”
The way they do that, said Molina Niño, is by paying their workers $20 an hour, in a industry where workers generally receive no more than $12 an hour. “That’s huge. That’s life changing, the difference between $12 and $20 an hour.” Molina Niño also sees the writing on the wall for the need for elder care services in the US. “You have 10,000 people who are turning 60 every day in this country. This is a massive growth play.”
For Molina Niño, the litmus test for deploying capital is that the investment be measurably improving the economic lives of women, at scale, as part of their core business model. “It makes zero difference to me whether the founders are women. It makes zero difference if the board is made up of women. I would love for that to be the case, and maybe after I invest in them, I can influence that to be the case. But it doesn’t make all the difference to me, because they clearly have a model that takes large numbers of women and substantively changes their lives.”
BRAVA Investments hones in on opportunities for making the most impact in gender equality by investing in mid-level growth companies in health care, education, and consumer products, that are economically benefiting women. “If I think about how am I going to make the most impact, by making one woman entrepreneur successful, or by focusing on a company like Honor that is going to help thousands of women rise out of poverty, I’m always going to choose that latter model,” said Molina Niño.
BRAVA’s investment’s focus is on high growth business models that economically benefit women. “I don’t believe that making the one woman a billionaire is going to translate into thousands of women being better off,” said BRAVA’s co-founder and CEO, Nathalie Molina Niño.”I think if you believe that, you’re basically talking trickle down economics. And I don’t believe it.”
The good news about BRAVA’s approach is that it attracts serious investors with deep pockets, who hear that BRAVA is working at a larger scale and also using a strategy economically benefiting large populations of women. “We’re focusing on domains where women are the majority — either they have a majority of women in their workforce, or a majority of women in their consumer base.”
BRAVA is taking a much different lens than other gender lens investing instruments, capturing the value of investing in economic sectors that influence women’s lives instead of in corporate structures that value women’s leadership.
“I worry that gender lens investing has been too focused on women in the corner office,” said Molina Niño. “So if you look at Sheryl Sandberg and her book, she is focused on the fact that there’s a lack of women in the C-Suite. I step back and think, what percentage of the total women in the world are going to be worried about getting into the C-Suite?”
It’s not that Molina Niño does not want to see more women in leadership across all sectors, but there are different ways to create prosperity for women. “As a woman entrepreneur, I’m personally very impacted by issues around women’s leadership in business, and I co-founded a center for women entrepreneurs at Barnard College at Columbia University, so nobody can say I don’t care about women entrepreneurs, but I have a hard time making the entire story be about that tiny sliver of the population. What about the other 99% of women who will never start a business and who will never make it to the c-suite? They deserve to be invested in, too.” And she believes the evidence shows this broader lens also makes for better investment returns.
A final key point for Molina Niño is the essential role of strong alliances with men in the financial sector and beyond. “Men need to be a big part of this equation,” said Molina Niño. So while the end game is about benefiting women, Molina Niño sees plenty of room for men to be involved, especially when it comes to raising capital. “It’s silly to exclude the people who have all the power, influence, and capital, and so my business partners and co-founders are men. I did that on purpose.”
And it’s not just one day. It’s the entire weekend.
And it’s not just about marching. It’s about participating in democracy.
The Women’s March for 2018 is about what it means to be part of a society that values equality and freedom, and it’s about getting more people to the polls to elect the defenders of those values.
After the overwhelming success of last years’s Women’s March, the creators of the event developed a nonprofit organization called Women’s March Alliance in order to facilitate movement activity. This year, over 200 events for the Women’s March will happen on both the 20th and the 21st. On the 20th, New York City will start its rally at 11 AM at 72nd street, marching past Columbus Circle by 12:30. In Washington, DC on the 20th, the march will start at the Reflecting Pool and go to the White House, with speakers to present on the steps of Lincoln Memorial.
On the 21st, Nevada will have its Power to the Polls Launch starting at 10 am. Also on the 21st, Athens, Greece will start its rally in Syntagma Square end in front of the Embassy of the United States in Athens.
All around the country and world, for two days, people will rally peacefully for the cause of gender equality and justice. And who are the sponsors of these events? The Exclusive Premier sponsor is Planned Parenthood of America. The Presenting Platinum sponsor is NRDC, the National Resource Defense Council. Social Justice sponsors are Emily’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Movement friends include the ACLU, the AFT, Human Rights Campaign, Movement is Loud, 1199SEIU, and Moveon.org. The sponsors and partners page for the Women’s March website also has an extensive list of partner organizations, including many longtime organizations in the women’s space like the National Organization for Women (NOW), Women Thrive Alliance, Women for Women International, and dozens of others. Other larger partners include Amnesty International, YWCA America, and the National Association of Social Workers (my professional association!). A huge number of artists have also signed on for the Women’s March.
These events are not just for the rights and equality of women, but the rights and equality of all human beings. The Women’s March is a valuable opportunity for the resistance to show its diversity — shining a light on race and gender equality as well as on reproductive, LGBTQIA, worker’s, civil, disability, immigrant, and environmental rights.
“The Emergent Fund started as a plane built in mid-air. We moved faster than comfort allowed in developing a funding response to the new threats posed by the 2016 election because the scale of the crisis that loomed was so large, multidimensional, and immediate. Resources were urgently needed in many places and without much time for deliberation.”
So begins Visionary Resistance, a new report reviewing how several donor networks came together to invest $ 1 million rapidly for efforts to protect those most marginalized and targeted by a Trump presidency. Aptly named the Emergent Fund, this new resource is funded through a partnership between the Women Donors Network, Solidaire, Threshold Foundation, and the Democracy Alliance.
“This rapid-response model works to build up a new future in funding alternatives for communities facing injustice.” said Donna P. Hall, president and CEO of the Women Donors Network. In particular, Hall noted in a press release about the new report, the Emergent Fund worked to defend those “belittled, criminalized and attacked during the presidential campaign – immigrants, women, Muslim and Arab-American communities, Black people, LGBTQ communities, and all people of color.”
The new report helps to identify specific ways that philanthropists can change hierarchical systems of grantmaking and work expediently to empower communities to create their own solutions to problems.
Some key takeaways from the report? One is simply that with more intentional communication and accelerated deadlines, grantmaking can be more strategic and expedient. Another key takeaway: redefining the funder’s role from “expert” to “curator” of relationships with community members working at the grass roots.
And which organizations are getting funding from the Emergent Fund? Organizations working to protect the most vulnerable among us. Here is a small sampling:
United We Dream: Working to protect undocumented youth from deportation, United We Dream is the “largest immigrant-led national community” with over 400,000 members.
It Takes Roots: It Takes Roots is a “national multiracial alliance” focused on racial, housing and climate justice in both the US and Canada.
CAIR-CA: Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization.
I am pleased to announce that the Women’s Funding Network has agreed to serve as Philanthropy Women’s fiscal sponsor for our not-for-profit publishing work. This partnership will help us to raise funds to make Philanthropy Women a more potent force for educating the community about how women in philanthropy are driving social change.
The Women’s Funding Network (WFN) grew out of a 1984 joint meeting of the National Black United Fund and the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, where participants discussed creating an organization exclusively for women’s funds. By 2000, WFN had grown into a network of 94 member funds and foundations with over $200 million in assets, deploying $30 million a year in grants. In 2003, WFN received a $5 million grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which enabled significant growth. Today, WFN continues to expand, with over 100 women’s funds and foundations spanning 30 countries, and continues to collaborate with other philanthropic powerhouses like Kellogg, the Gates Foundation, and the Clinton Foundation, to address gender equality globally.
I first became aware of WFN because our longtime Executive Director of Women’s Fund of Rhode Island, Marcia Coné, reached out to meet with me and discuss women’s philanthropy both in Rhode Island and nationally. Marcia is now the Chief Strategist for the Women’s Funding Network and the author of Permission Granted: Changing the Paradigm for Women in Leadership, which explores ways to enact positive change in our own lives as well as in our communities.
I am thrilled to be able to partner with such an important organization in the history of progressive women’s funding. My job here at Philanthropy Women is enhanced by knowing that I have the support of this powerful network of women thinkers and doers. Please join me in welcoming the Women’s Funding Network as our fiscal sponsor, and in thanking them for their support.
Great news for the gender lens investing sector — 2017 brought a massive 41% increase in public market securities that use gender lens strategies.
A report entitled Gender Lens Investing: Investment Options in the Public Markets produced by Veris Wealth Partners has the details. Suzanne Biegel, Founder of Catalyst At Large, is credited with collaborating and gathering the information used in the analysis, this being her second year working in partnership with Veris Wealth Partners to create the public market scan. The study pulls together information from over 23 gender lens investment instruments produced by a wide range of financial companies including Barclay’s, Pax Ellevate, State Street Global Investors, ThirtyNorth Investments, Morgan Stanley, and others.
This news is not only good for the sector of gender lens investing — it’s good news for the larger world as well, since there is growing evidence that when women have more access to financial resources, money often gets distributed more widely, and economies thrive.
Gender lens investing made a remarkable jump in 2017, going from $645 million in 2016 to $910 million in 2017. And while $910 million is an impressive amount of money to be devoted to gender lens investing, in the larger picture of asset management as a whole, the gender lens investing sector is still relatively small. In an industry that manages an estimated total of $71.4 trillion dollars as of 2015, $910 million is .00127% of that $71.4 trillion total — in other words, a drop in the bucket of total financial assets under management.
An analysis by Bloomberg combined public securities gender lens investing with estimates of other forms of gender-based investing and found that in 2017, over $1.3 billion had also been invested in private equity and venture capital at 50 funds using gender-based strategies. So if we add that $1.3 billion in with the $910 million, we’re at about $2.2 billion, or .00308%.
But it’s movement in the right direction. The financial sector will no doubt be paying more attention to gender lens investing in the future, as women become more fluent in exercising their financial power. Women in philanthropy are wise to look at gender lens investing as a close cousin of gender equality philanthropy — another important way to deploy funding for maximum female empowerment. We also need to look for ways to make the public aware of the benefits of gender lens investing, and make gender lens investing more accessible to different sectors of the economy — middle class investors, for example, and institutional investors.
The storied fortunes of the Gilded Age are so closely associated with the men who made them that the wives who used that money to help society are often unknown. Wealthy women in the 19th century were expected to be little more than heir-producers and society hostesses.
But women such as Louise Whitfield Carnegie, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney did not spend their days merely updating the Social Register, getting fitted for sumptuous gowns, or meeting for luxurious, gossipy lunches. They also worked hard to make sure that their families’ fortunes—all built on the backs of the less fortunate—were used to help others. Wealthy 19th century women were not supposed to work outside the home, and they certainly had no financial need to do so. But these women expanded their limited roles through charitable work and in doing so created a new public role for women.
Let’s take a look at how some women took what many felt was a limited life in a gilded cage and made valuable efforts at social improvement:
Brooke Astor (1902-2007): John Jacob Astor built his family fortune on the early national era fur trade and Manhattan real estate. But it was his great-grandson’s wife Brooke who kept the family name and reputation alive. Appointed a member of the board of the Astor Foundation upon marrying into the family, Brooke Astor also became a prominent member of Manhattan’s wealthy female philanthropic set after her husband died. She lived according to her dictum, “Money is like manure; it’s not worth a thing unless it’s spread around.” She was a Trustee for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, served on the boards of various other charities, and in her lifetime donated at least $195 million to charitable organizations. Former New York Mayor Abraham Beame claimed that Astor (had) “done more for New York City than any other one person.” For her work, she received many accolades, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Louise Whitfield Carnegie (1857-1946): Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie famously wrote in his “Gospel of Wealth” that “the problem of our age is the proper administration of wealth, so that the ties of brotherhood may still bind together the rich and the poor in harmonious relationships.” He was not alone in that thinking: his wife Louise shared that sentiment and both before and after her husband’s death was committed to his philanthropic vision. Though she had signed a prenuptial agreement promising not to make any claim on his fortune in exchange for a limited annual income, she maintained significant influence over Carnegie’s philanthropic decisions. Most people have heard of Carnegie Hall, which she was influential in creating, but she also managed contributions to the Red Cross, Y.W.C.A., and many New York-based organizations.
Abby Aldrich Rockefeller (1874-1948): Her 1901 wedding to the heir to the Standard Oil fortune, John Davison Rockefeller Jr., was splashed all over the society pages of American newspapers, but Abby Aldrich Rockefeller would soon be known not just as the wife of one of the richest men in America, but also as one of the most forward-thinking philanthropists of all time. She financed a Red Cross unit during World War I, and was instrumental in calling for and creating hotels for women. Her collection of revolutionary European and American art, including works by Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Matisse, among others, was the foundation of what would become New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. Unable to contribute as much money as she wanted to due to a strict allowance from her husband, Abby stepped beyond the limited definition of the duties of a society wife to fund the creation of the museum, as she made direct solicitations to wealthy individuals and major corporations.
Jane Lathrop Stanford (1825-1905): Jane Stanford suffered more than her share of tragedy. Though her husband Leland built a substantial fortune through trade and became governor of California, personal happiness did not follow material wealth. She and her husband lost his law library and other property in a fire, her son Leland, Jr. died at age 15, and she herself was murdered by strychnine poisoning. Her murder may have had something to do with the power struggles over control of Stanford University, which she and her husband founded in 1891. The university struggled following Leland, Sr.’s death two years later, but Jane took over its management and used her own allowance to keep the university afloat while Leland Sr.’s estate was in probate. She even famously, and unsuccessfully, tried to sell her fabulous jewel collection in England during Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations. After her death, the Jewel Fund was established following the sale of those jewels, and to this day provides funding for the university’s library.
Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942): Scion of the wealthy railroad and shipping Vanderbilt family, Gertrude was unlike her notoriously tight-fisted grandfather, who founded Vanderbilt University but about whose refusal to donate to charity Mark Twain once wrote, “You observe that I haven’t said anything about your soul, Vanderbilt. It is because I have evidence that you haven’t any.” That wasn’t true of Gertrude, who married into another wealthy family, the oil-rich Whitneys, and trained as an artist, most notably of public sculptures and memorials. She was a strong patron of female artists, and her immersion in the art world convinced her that modern art needed to be promoted. She eventually turned her gallery into what is now the world-renowned Whitney Museum of American Art in 1931.
These women—the wives of the world’s most prominent capitalists during the Industrial Era—are largely responsible for developing various aspects of American philanthropy. Women such as Melinda Gates, Susan Dell, and Susan Buffett, who preside over some of the largest philanthropic foundations in the world today, have certainly benefited from the work of the Gilded Age female philanthropists who established charitable organizations and networks and provided models for a new public role for women in the 19th century. They proved that women could found and run charitable organizations and establish institutions that, to this day, continue to serve society.
While estimates are frighteningly low for the percentage of financial assets under management by women and minorities, that number is destined to change. Leading the charge for this change as one of the few women-owned asset management companies is ThirtyNorth Investments, headed by Suzanne Mestayer, Managing Principal, and Blair duQuesnay, Principal and Chief Investment Officer.
How did Mestayer and duQuesnay become gender lens investors? They were basically convinced by the business case for more women in corporate leadership. “It was an interesting confluence of increasing our knowledge on the topic of women in governance, and learning about how few women are on corporate boards,” said Mestayer in a recent interview with Philanthropy Women. “This coincided with our acknowledgement of our own experiences serving on boards, and seeing the benefits of having diversity on those boards.”
The more Mestayer and duQuesnay researched about the benefits of women’s leadership in business, the more they learned that the news was good. “We realized that if in fact companies with board diversity are performing better, then perhaps there is an investment strategy that not only provides visibility and attention, but also provides real financial reward for investors.”
ThirtyNorth has done its own gender lens investing research, which is coming out in the August issue of Investments & Wealth Monitor. “In doing our research, we were coming to the same directional conclusion, that board diversity correlated with better company performance,” said Mestayer.
So ThirtyNorth developed a unique strategy that weighs stocks for both financial performance and gender diversity on boards and in executive leadership. “We seeded it in April of last year, and we’re very happy to see the level of interest and attention it’s getting,” said Mestayer.
“Being two women who are asset managers, the research really resonated with us,” added Blair duQuesnay, who leads ThirtyNorth’s investment committee and bears the responsibility of researching the firms strategies. duQuesnay has been frequent commenter in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, InvestmentNews, and Business Insider.
“We know that there are so few asset managers who are women. It’s even smaller than the 20 percent we’re trying to see on boards. Morningstar estimates that less than 10 percent of mutual funds are run by women, and less than 2 percent of industry assets are managed by women, so it really resonated with us personally when we read this research and developed the strategy.”
ThirtyNorth’s product is called the Women Impact Strategy, and it allows investors to reap the potential benefits of 50 company stocks that are leading the way in terms of gender representation on corporate boards and in executive leadership. The collection of 50 stocks has been rigorously screened and balanced for diversity and women’s leadership on boards, as well as diversity across sectors of the economy, in alignment with the Russell 3000 Index. It’s a unique — and hard to find — product in today’s financial markets.
“One of the realities of the industry is that many times, people are learning about other investment opportunities that align with their values, but they’re not necessarily hearing it from their existing financial advisors,” said Mestayer. “They’re either bringing it to the attention of their advisor, or they are taking some of their money and placing it differently.”
ThirtyNorth is looking to be one of those places where investors go to place their money differently, and be rewarded for understanding the value of women’s leadership in business.
“The information on the number of women who are interested in investing on social motivated issues is pretty astounding,” said Mestayer, citing research from the Center for Talent Innovation. “90% of women were interested in making a positive impact 77% specifically want to invest in companies with diversity in leadership. Those are very powerful numbers because women are making decisions on about $11 trillion of investment assets in this country. So it’s a very powerful amount of investment and number of women who are interested in an investment approach like ours.”
It’s not just the consumer interest that makes this product so important — it’s the end result. One end result is companies that have better decision-making and therefore better performance. Another end result is companies that are healthier work cultures for women, providing role modeling and more perceived opportunities for their women employees who want to move up the corporate ladder. The products and services of these companies, as well, tend to attract diverse consumers.
It’s the synergy of all of these social changes being boosted by the Women Impact Strategy that make it an exceptional product. So how can more foundations, especially those with a mission to move the needle on gender equality, get on board? “I would suggest that foundations do a search to see what is available in the gender lens investing sphere and have conversations with a number of providers,” said Mestayer.
The lower threshold for investing in the Women Impact Strategy is $250,000, so this is a service built for high capital entities like foundations. “We have a very diversified mix of companies — large, mid, and small, some international — and so it’s a good fit for any foundation that is looking to allocate their stock portfolio with a gender lens,” said duQuesnay.
Mestayer emphasized that in the foundation world, there is still a lot of misinformation about the relative value of gender lens investing. “Many times, foundation board members have said ‘we know we’re making grants for philanthropic purposes and the return on investment in real dollars is not always there, but with the money we invest, we can’t afford to invest it in a way that gets sub-par returns.”
But the compelling thing about gender lens investing is the growing body of evidence that it’s actually a financially sound way to approach investing. “Financial returns do not need to take a back seat to moving forward on social issues,” said Mestayer. “In fact, you can succeed by doing both at the same time. That’s the most exciting part of watching this develop. Financial returns are not taking a back seat. That myth needs to be debunked.”
And, it’s not just women who are interested in the Women Impact Strategy. “We are often discussing our product with men, and many men will talk about how, through their personal relationships, they have seen the issues women have encountered over the years, and they genuinely see the benefit of supporting a gender lens approach,” said Mestayer.
ThirtyNorth’s new Women Impact Strategy picks up on an important global phenomenon: The more economies recognize women as the key point of contact for growing business, the more chance we all have to succeed. Mestayer and duQuesnay are part of a growing ecosystem of women’s leadership in financial sector that may, in time, produce more financial stability for everyone.