Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 10, 2019.
Tracy Gray has something important to tell women about their philanthropy: do less of it. It’s not the usual message that donors get from the world, and it’s not the usual message here at Philanthropy Women, either. But the context of this message comes from Gray’s conviction that the quicker we grow women’s wealth through gender lens investing, the quicker we will move toward a better society.
“Take some of your money out of charity and put it into women-owned or women-led businesses,” Gray advised women donors, in a recent phone chat with Philanthropy Women.
Gray is not giving this advice lightly, but out of years of experience as both an investor and a feminist thought leader. Gray began her career in venture capital in 1999 and has a reputation for being thorough and meticulous as a finance expert. “Ms. Gray works tirelessly to research emerging domestic market trends, find high quality investment opportunities and manage relationships with seed and limited partners,” said David Morris, Vice President of Global Product Strategy and Marketing at FalconStor Software, in a review of Ms. Gray on LinkedIn. Beyond financial expertise, Gray also spent part of her career as a senior advisor to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, focused on international business and economic development. On top of all that, Gray is also the founder a nonprofit called We Are Enough, which is focused entirely on educating women across the world, at every economic level, about how and why to invest with a gender lens and in women-owned businesses.
Since 2017, Gray has been the founder and managing partner of the 22 Fund, a growth equity investment firm that seeks to create more quality employment opportunities for women and people of color, particularly in manufacturing and tech companies. She has also been named one of 50 “Women of Influence” in business in Los Angeles, and was featured on Robb Report and in the book 200 Women Who Will Change the Way You See the World for her unique approach to investing in women.
“The American economy isn’t working for the majority of the people,” said Gray as we conversed about the central reasons for women donors to take on gender lens investing. To get to a place where the economy is working for more Americans, said Gray, we need both systems change and mindset change. For women and people of color to build intergenerational wealth, Gray sees a need for women to do less charity, and more investing.
“Women are really good at giving money away. We don’t need to learn how to give money away. We need to grow our wealth and grow our power back,” said Gray. “Building women’s wealth is the #1 way we can move toward achieving the top SDG’s (UN Sustainable Development Goals),” she added.
To help women build their own wealth in a way that will drive systems change, the nonprofit that Gray started, We Are Enough, has a three-year goal: to get three million women investing an average of $1,000 in women-owned businesses or gender lens investing. The total activity this will generate — $3 billion — will begin to chip away at the massive venture capital deficit that women now experience.
“The fastest growing segment of businesses has been women for years, especially black and brown women. And yet, only .006% of venture capital goes to black women,” said Gray.
To address massive injustices like this, Gray argues that, “The mindset shift we need is for women to move some of their money from philanthropy into investing. Because then you’ll build not only your wealth, you’ll build the wealth of the women you’re investing in.”
Gray launched We Are Enough because of the way women are sidelined by the process of funding their businesses. “Women only get 4% of commercial loans,” said Gray, “and they are required to pay them back sooner and at a higher interest rate, even though they are a lower risk.”
“That’s why I focus on investing. We know that when you fund with a gender lens, you see higher rates of return. It’s all logical. And it’s illogical that we’re in a situation where people aren’t doing it.”
Gray was one of the speakers at #Womenfunded2019, this year’s conference held by the Women’s Funding Network. She spoke on a panel entitled Women Investing in Women. “Are black women getting investing opportunities from venture capital?” the panel’s moderator, Julie Castro Abrams, asked Gray.
“No,” said Gray flatly.
She continued: “I entered venture capital in 1999, and at that time 10% of the venture capitalists were women. Now it’s somewhere between 8 and 6%. Twenty years ago, we were getting 3% of the capital, now we’re at 2.2%, So, this is statistically impossible with the numbers of women coming in. There is not just unconscious bias, there is conscious bias.”
Gray’s perspective is one that many high level women donors are embracing, including Melinda Gates, who recently pledged $1 billion for women and girls over the next ten years and will be dividing this funding between philanthropy and gender lens investing. Public women’s funds, as well, such as the Texas Women’s Foundation and the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, are also doing more gender lens investing with their foundation assets. Roslyn Dawson Thompson, President of the Texas Women’s Foundation, spoke to this point on the WFN panel. “The asset investments that we make can move the needle perhaps faster and more powerfully than the goodness that we’re sprinkling around through philanthropy, and working the two together is a powerful combination,” said Dawson Thompson.
Tracy Gray concedes that philanthropy is still necessary and performs its own essential role in society, but it’s the proportion of philanthropy relative to the proportion of gender lens investing that she wants women to look at. Doing so, she hopes, will help more women realize that gender lens investing can be a mighty tool for creating social change.
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