Leveraging gender data to improve gender lens investment



Most investors acknowledge that gender data is a powerful tool to build and share the case for their investment in gender-progressive companies and practices. However, even though there are several tools for measuring the gender performance of investors and their portfolio companies, many investors still struggle to design gender measurement strategies that can yield powerful results without overburdening their staff and portfolio companies. Furthermore, gender-data measurement and management are still too often performed as a sub-task of ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) or impact metrics monitoring. This often limits the capacity of investors to leverage gender data more holistically and strategically to affirm their commitment and performance around gender outcomes. 

On October 26, 2021, MIT D-Lab and Intellecap convened an online workshop focused on gender data in India, as part of a Co-design Sprint: Towards Gender Inclusive Investing Practices. Over 35 investment and gender practitioners came together to help UC Ventures and Omidyar explore the following question: How might we leverage gender data to create value for our fund and our portfolio companies?

The workshop drew investors, entrepreneurs, gender experts, and practitioners from the investment ecosystem in India and globally. Participants included representatives from ANDE, AVPN, CDC Group, Global Innovation Fund, the GIIN, ICRW, the Palladium Group, Criterion Institute, Sarona Fund, TSIC, UBS, UNConventional Capital, Value for Women, and others.

The workshop kicked off with a couple of warm-up exercises (“Picture Yourself “and “This is not a brick!'') in order to encourage participants to practice divergent thinking and projective ideation. These exercises invited participants to reflect on gender data as a powerful tool for storytelling and to broaden their thinking of what gender data may be used for.

Mapping opportunities to create value for funds and their investees

Participants were invited to start by exploring why the funds should measure gender data. What value might investors expect to generate from gender data? By expanding their understanding of the opportunities to generate value from gender data, investors can become more intentional about what data needs to be measured and how it should be used.

To help organize the brainstorming of opportunities, the organizers developed a framework, the Gender Data Bloom, that invites users to consider various avenues to leverage gender data for generating value in six categories (represented as petals). This same framework can be applied to think about leveraging gender data to create value for the fund or for its portfolio companies.

gender date bloom

In their breakout rooms, participants contributed their diverse perspectives to identify various opportunities to generate value from gender data in each of the framework categories. 

Product: How might we leverage gender data to improve our value proposition?

For funds, opportunities emerged around leveraging gender data to design more relevant and attractive financial products as well as more effective and tailored technical assistance for female-led or gender-forward entrepreneurs. For entrepreneurs, participants saw opportunities in leveraging gender data for designing better products or services, expanding into new markets, and differentiating their value proposition through gender impact.

Processes: How might we leverage gender data to improve our business processes?

For funds, the teams identified opportunities to leverage gender data for improving pre-investment and post-investment processes. From sourcing to due diligence, gender data could be used to design more inclusive criteria, processes, and channels; it can be used to tailor support for entrepreneurs and to design more holistic gender measurement strategies for the entire portfolio of investors. For entrepreneurs, gender data could be used to improve marketing and sales strategies and processes, and to expand gender impact through value chains.

People: How might we leverage gender data to enhance our team management and performance?

For funds and for entrepreneurs alike, participants saw numerous opportunities in leveraging gender data to design equitable human resources policies, promote gender diversity through gender-sensitive hiring and promotion practices, as well as to attract, motivate, and retain talent. Gender data could also be leveraged to train staff in having a more nuanced understanding of gender impact, going beyond counting heads into a deeper evaluation of gender outcomes.

Planning: How might we leverage gender data to inform our strategic planning for future growth?

In addition to attracting strategic funders, the teams established that gender data could also be leveraged to prioritize business or investment opportunities and to build the business case for the female economy by establishing a deeper understanding of women as consumers and promoting them as a strong and growing consumer segment for many industries.

Performance: How might we leverage gender data to demonstrate our financial and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) performance? 

For funds, opportunities included using the data to set gender performance milestones for the entire portfolio, redefine success models and document them, as well as join forces with other investors to build stronger evidence for the business case of GLI. For entrepreneurs, gender data can be used to establish relevant performance benchmarks and to build the case for future growth potential.

Positioning: How might we leverage gender data to strengthen our positioning and reputation within our industry?

Participants noted that investors and entrepreneurs alike can leverage gender data to position themselves as forward-thinking and influence their respective industries towards more gender-inclusive practices. There are also opportunities for entrepreneurs to align with their investors’ positioning and rally their forces to influence funders and other investors towards GLI. Finally, while investors can leverage gender data to better attract GLI investments, entrepreneurs can do so to acquire and retain consumers who put more value on diversity.

In reflecting on the breadth of opportunities that emerged from this exercise, the investors acknowledged that the framework helped them expand their understanding of gender data as a strategic tool to drive their GLI agenda. They shared insights around the importance of going beyond tracking outputs to measuring gender outcomes, balancing qualitative and qualitative indicators, and stepping up their own gender accountability to match what is expected from their portfolio companies.

Leveraging gender data to improve products and processes

When asked to prioritize an opportunity to explore further, two teams chose to focus on leveraging gender data to improve processes for funds while the other two focused on improving products for portfolio companies.

The teams who generated ideas for how to leverage gender data to improve investors’ processes ideated solutions and best practice in the following areas:

  • Sourcing processes: Participants suggested collecting gender data from pipeline enterprises — both screened-in and screened-out candidates – and use it to establish clear benchmarks and targets, as well as to improve sourcing criteria, channels, and communication strategies. They also suggested using the data to set clear sourcing targets and establish incentives for their sourcing staff.
  • Due diligence processes: One recurrent suggestion for improving due diligence was to perform a qualitative and quantitative gender-gap analysis on the entire investment portfolio. This practice allows investors to contextualize gender data and consider important qualitative factors such as human resources policies, pay gaps, and inclusion in decision-making both at the enterprise and the beneficiaries’ levels. Another key recommendation was to use gender data to establish gender markers (levels of gender performance) across a fund’s portfolio. These markers can be used by pipeline companies to self-assess and communicate gender goals, as well as to evaluate the entire fund’s investment portfolio and establish gender performance goals.
  • Post investment technical assistance: Some ideas in this category revolved around using the data to design and deliver gender-responsive technical assistance either by partnering with external providers or developing in-house toolkits and other resources. Others suggested that correlating gender data with performance data and openly celebrating and promoting the success of the GLI companies can be a powerful way to incentivize other portfolio companies to adopt gender forward strategies. 

The teams who generated ideas for how to leverage gender data to improve investees’ products or services ideated solutions and best practices in the following areas:

  • Product design: A consensus emerged on the idea of helping portfolio companies integrate gender data measurement with consumer research in order to better understand the needs and wants of women consumers. This can lead to developing or improving products and services, yielding both deeper impact and greater revenue. By correlating gender data with financial performance, entrepreneurs can make a stronger case for the female economy and fight the perception that this is a niche market with limited revenue potential.
  • Business model: Participants suggested gathering sex-disaggregated data on marketing and sales performance (exp. customer acquisition, retention metrics) to build the case for the value of engaging women in the value chain. Others suggested that the enterprise gender composition should also be correlated to gender and financial outcomes in order to make the business case for gender diversity in leadership and in the workplace.
  • Impact strategy: Female-led and gender-forward enterprises may have broader impact agendas. It was noted that it is important to use gender data to highlight the intersectionality with other impact metrics in order to augment the value for customers and investors. Participants emphasized the idea of measuring both quantitative and qualitative metrics, to go beyond “counting heads,” and to attract investors with progressive GLI agendas who value deeper gender outcomes. 

In reflecting on their ideation sessions, the investors noted the importance of budgeting time and resources to gender data measurement both at the level of the fund and for the portfolio companies. They also identified opportunities for the funds to collaborate on gender data measurement initiatives in order to maximize the returns on their investments. 

An emerging tool: The Gender Data Bloom

The workshop organizers analyzed the emerging themes from the problem framing and idea generation exercises and used them to further develop the Gender Data Bloom, a tool to help GLI investors identify opportunities for leveraging gender data to generate value for their funds and/or their portfolio companies.

The two canvases provide investors with a list of possible uses of gender data from which they can select those that best align with their organizational priorities. By clearly identifying specific goals for measuring and reporting gender data, investors can prioritize metrics and measurement strategies that maximize the return on investment in gender data measurement for their fund and for their portfolio companies.

We hope that you will find this tool useful and invite you to share your feedback on it by writing to Jona Repishti.