How to invest with a Gender Lens


As an impact investor with a burgeoning interest in using a gender lens, I read with great interest the recently published joint BNY Mellon/United Nations Foundation “Return on Equality” report. While the report highlights some necessary considerations for investors concerned about gender inequities, I would posit that they are not sufficient. I suggest that a more holistic approach to gender lens investing is required.

I have been an impact investor for nearly a decade and in that time have learned many lessons about the importance of advancing gender equity. I am not an expert in gender lens investing, but I believe in my ability to act as an ally and know it is my responsibility to improve gender inequities. My vision is to build more dialogue with others interested in this space, and to use my expertise in impact investment to strive for gender equity.

The concept of gender lens investing is no longer nascent. It has evolved well past the point of view of the report, which suggests that, as investors, we started looking at the firm, focusing first on diversity and equity in the workplace and second on women-owned/led enterprises and increasing their access to capital. Certainly, these forms of investing are important. Research will confirm that women-owned/led organizations unequivocally receive less funding than men-owned/led organizations. It will also verify the correlation between management and board-level diversity with improved firm performance. Many successful funding and accelerator/incubator intermediaries are already implementing these two types of gender lens investing, which is a great start. These are necessary, but not sufficient.

The report then outlines a third type of gender lens investing whereby funding is focused on firms whose products and services advance gender equity. Women’s sexual and reproductive health and safety, time savings from traditionally gendered roles, and economic advancement are all areas that can be improved via delivery of certain products and services. No disagreement here. Again, necessary, but not sufficient.

If we are interested in breaking down systemic biases via the use of finance through a gender lens, then we must do more than simply look for diversity in teams, provide greater access to capital to women in leadership, and focus on firms providing products and services that improve gender equity.


These types of gender lens investing focus too narrowly on aspects that are internal to the firm, and view gender equity improvement solely as an outcome. Considering aspects external to the firm must also be a key component of gender lens investing.

By focusing due diligence and portfolio management on how a firm conducts its business with its value chain, or process, we may ultimately be better able to address market conditions and decrease systemic biases.


Understanding a firm’s supply or value chain should enable an investor to understand how, why and with whom a firm conducts its business. The relevance to investors is clear: any firm operating within a vertical or industry that has deeply-connected logistics will have many nodes through which gender inequities may arise.[1]

Considering a firm’s value chain allows me to better understand market contexts and gender dynamics writ large. At various points along a firm’s value chain — up- and down-stream — there are likely to be gender inequities. Understanding this enables us to use a gender lens to consider firms within industries and verticals beyond just those that offer products and services that strive to improve gender equity. That means we can review any firm, any value chain, through a gender lens. This is a logical and necessary step toward rethinking and reforming markets, systemic biases, structural deficiencies, and ultimately achieving social justice.[2]

By considering process, not just outcomes, we can use a gender lens to consider essentially all firms.

Our investible universe opens up dramatically and, by doing so, as gender lens investors we now have more investible opportunities to shape, influence and alter markets and systems by using finance as a tool for social good.[3]


Impact investors can integrate a gender lens into diligence, portfolio construction and portfolio management to ensure that gender equity becomes engrained in the strategy of both the funder and the firm. I’ve been fortunate to have co-led the development and implementation of a gender strategy at Grand Challenges Canada (“GCC”) with my colleague, Kristen Yee. We were guided by Joy Anderson and Beth Woroniuk as external experts.

What was most exciting about this endeavour was considering how strategy implementation was to be integrated throughout the organization and its processes in order for it to have lasting effect — to the benefit of GCC, its innovators and their end users.

Based on that experience, here are a few items (highlights only) that I am incorporating into an evolving investment thesis:

  • Application and selection/due diligence processes that demonstrate a better balance of power between funders and firms. Further, how to make these more transparent, faster, simpler and gender neutral. This includes the format and timing of pitch events/demo days.
  • Due diligence documentation that see gender considerations baked in throughout, not buried in an appendix as an afterthought or tick box.
  • Financial instruments and structures and return scenarios appropriate to stage of organization, type of organization, industry, target demographics being served, level of market formation, growth trajectory and levels of perceived and actual risk. If you’ve heard about normal growth, indie or lifestyle businesses, these are getting at what I mean.
  • Designing simpler term sheets to better balance the power between funders and entrepreneurs. Moreover, funders can also focus on firm and management diversity considerations, family planning considerations and salaries and other benefits that will be better suited for all entrepreneurs and especially women.
  • Impact metrics focused on both process and outcomes for better alignment with a funder’s investment thesis and overall theory of change. With integration at both process and outcomes levels, I believe social change can be better realized.

Implementing the above will enable me to become a wiser, more holistic early-stage investor where my successes — financial and social — are meant to be shared successes with others. While I’ve deployed much of the above over the past few years, gaining traction through this increased intentionality, there is more to be done. With that in mind, right now seems like an opportune moment to become more holistic and intentional about fostering deeper respect and care for one another — especially as we aim to use financial tools for social change.


For me, this work is deeply personal. My maternal grandmother died from an illegal abortion in Hungary in the mid-1940s. I was raised by my single mother, an immigrant to Canada who worked on factory floors her entire life. Despite all the barriers she faced, my mother has given me so much opportunity, teaching me along the way about resilience, perseverance and grit. I am now blessed with an amazing partner, Rosie, and we have been honoured with the arrival of our two daughters, Sofia and Nadette. In ways I’d never have been able to fathom prior, my life forever changed as soon as I became a papa. My purpose and reason for being is now so intentional with such alacrity.

While it may appear strange to some that a white, heterosexual male would be this interested in reducing gender inequities, as mentioned earlier I am here as an ally and believe that a better understanding of the deep structural issues and biases around gender and the myriad intersectionalities we all live with is one essential way for us to be more intentional investors that use finance for social change.

Gender issues are of course not just women’s issues.

By helping to change how women are valued, and increasing women’s participation within and across value chains, women stand to improve their access to capital, earn more, experience less gender discrimination and violence, have their sexual and reproductive health rights realized, and sit in an increased number of leadership positions. Why? Because it’s 2017, and this will help all of our families, communities and economies grow more sustainably.

Marigold Capital, a bespoke impact advisory and capital placement firm, has been built to not just test, but see all of the above through. Here are a few areas where we can help:

  • Applying greater intentionality and discipline throughout your investment cycle, inclusive of investment theses, portfolio construction, portfolio management, exits
  • Integrating a gender lens throughout your processes, documentation, and protocols
  • Bridging the best of international development with traditional early stage investing
  • Deploying funds using any of the above through self-directed, pooled or product approaches

If you’re interested in learning more, we’d love to hear from you and see if we can’t work together to more effectively deploy smart capital toward decreasing structural inequities.

Jonathan Hera | @JonathanHera | @marigoldcap

[1] A 2016 report on this theme is “Women’s Empowerment in Global Value Chains” by BSR with support from Women Deliver and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands

[2] Achieving appropriate risk-adjusted financial returns is always a key aspect within any investment decision

[3] I wish I had coined this, but for it we must thank Joy Anderson of the Criterion Institute

Leave a Reply