Women in impact investing, and International Women’s Day



05 March 2014

Suzanne Beigel, Clearly Social Angels, shares her thoughts about women in impact investing.

Saturday 8th March is International Women’s Day, and my colleagues and I have been talking a lot about women in impact investing. In fact, I am attending an event about women and girls – as an investor, a speaker, a philanthropist, or as a member of an audience – every night for two solid weeks. March is a great month to think about women in the impact space, because everyone is talking about it.

Over on the ClearlySo blog, a colleague has written about how inspiring entrepreneurs can create sustainable change for women through social enterprise. Here, though, I wanted to explore the other side – what does it look like for women as impact investors?

Firstly, I am an investor who loves to invest for social change, and a part of that is investing into businesses where I can see positive impacts for women and girls. Investing as a woman in this space can mean investing into companies that demonstrate gender equality, or employ disadvantaged women, or put women in control of the products of their labour. The brilliant TED Talk above by Jackie VanderBrug explores the many opportunities in this space. These kinds of ‘gender lens investments’ aside, I am also interested in how women invest as social impact angels.

Clearly Social Angels (CSA) is pretty unique as an angel group because 50% of our investors are women. That’s nearly ten times higher than the average – less than 6% of angels in the UK are women, according to the UKBAA. But why is it important that women are at the table?

It isn’t just about women for us – we find that diversity in the group makes us better investors. Having a great gender balance is smarter for us, and it’s great news for the companies in which we invest as well. Diversity in our network means we have a whole range of skills to offer – from HR, management, marketing, finance and entrepreneurial experience to sectors as diverse as technology, manufacturing, and insurance. It means that the coaching and mentoring that our angels offer comes from a pool of people with hugely varied experiences and backgrounds.

Diverse ideas when thinking about investments are also really positive. In a due diligence process looking at a business that targets women as consumers, it’s really helpful to have women investors engaged. Having women at the table also encourages us to question entrepreneurs about the gender representation on their boards, and on their management teams. It means we are more aware of how their companies look at labour policies for the women and men who work for them.

Being women in this investing space allows us to use our voices and our influence to help shape change – women in our group have taken on non-exec director roles for companies in which they are investing, and in some cases this has meant being the only woman on that board. We want to cultivate a culture where there is more equal gender representation, and more diverse representation generally, on the boards and in the management teams of companies in which we invest.

So women belong at this table, and at CSA they are already here. In fact, though, there is a very valuable role for the men to play as well. Some of the fantastic women we have here were introduced to us by one of the men in the group (and vice versa). Everyone in the group has to work to make it okay to admit when you don’t know something, or to be forceful about a view that you have. I don’t want to generalise about ‘female’ or ‘male’ characteristics, but our impact angel group works hard to make sure every voice is heard.

In terms of investing into companies led by women entrepreneurs, we do not find that more women make these investments than men. Perhaps having more women in the room as investors encourages receptiveness in the group to female entrepreneurs, but we meet a whole range of entrepreneurs and it’s helpful for them to be faced by a whole range of investors too.

Dale Murray won Business Angel of the Year a couple of years ago; I know she is such an inspiration to women in this area, especially for those who are thinking about making that first step into angel investing. So think about women you know – is there someone who wants to explore their role as an empowered investor, to use their influence and capital, and to have fun while they do it? We are always pleased to hear from investors who want to get involved in this space, as angels or otherwise.

International Women’s Day is a great chance to draw attention to these issues, but as far as CSA is concerned, every day is the chance to think about this. Are there women you know who are setting up brilliant impact-focused businesses? Do you have a colleague, a sister or a friend who might think about being an impact investor? When I go to all these events – because Women’s Day now seems to run through the whole of March – people are always excited to hear about women investing in impact, whether it’s from me, from one of our angels (a woman or a man) or from a social entrepreneur whose business we have helped to grow.

So happy Women’s Month from one angel who loves to invest in impact – and do get in touch if you have a fantastic woman in mind who might want to do the same.

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