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Gender and Investing: Where are all the women?

By Bonnie Foley-Wong

In my first post, I shared my story about starting an investment company, from scratch, and I described my concept of Integrated Investing, an impactful approach to investing which starts with integrating information from analysis, emotion, intuition, and body into our investment decisions. Integrated Investing is for both men and women, but women have stepped forward as early adopters, so I’m often asked about gender and investing. 

Beginning my exploration, it quickly became clear that there was little hard data on gender and impact investing. As a result, the following analysis is not comprehensive, but rather a broad and illustrative overview of the intersection of gender and investing. In this post, I first examine the data made available through the ImpactAssets 50 database, then compare it to findings from a review of prominent venture capital funds in the US, and finally suggest a few possible explanations as to why women investors are so scarce. 

ImpactAssets 50
The ImpactAssets 50 is the first publicly available database of experienced private debt and equity impact investment fund managers. This annually updated list is made up of a mix of impact venture firms, microfinance institutions, community development finance institutions, investment banks, and not-for-profits and included organizations from around the world. 

A review of the ImpactAssets 50 list showed that the proportion of women in leadership teams of impact investing organizations was 34%, on a weighted average basis. For example, if one team had 3 women on their team out of 10 people, a second team had 2 women out of 5 people, and a third team had 3 out of 8, the weighted average is 8 out of 23 or 34.8%. The weighted average proportion of women on leadership teams appears to be higher than in conventional venture firms, as noted below, and the representation of women on leadership and senior executive teams is diverse, ranging from 0% to 100%. Though the ImpactAssets 50 list is not comprehensive of all debt and equity impact investment organization, it hints at low representation of women in investment leadership teams (compared to the proportion that women make up of the global population). However, it may also be indicative that there are opportunities for women in investing in the impact space or that impact investing and its variations are more welcoming or attractive to women compared to more traditional investing firms.

Women in prominent venture capital firms 
In 2012, Whitney Hess, an independent user experience consultant, reviewed prominent US venture capital funds, recording the number of women on their leadership teams. She noted that venture firms tended to have 0 to 2 women in leadership and management positions. Kleiner Perkins stood out with almost 25% of their leadership team represented by women. Of the handful of women-led, women-focused venture firms, the majority of firms demonstrated much higher representation by women. Whitney identified two venture firms that were not specifically women-focused and more than half of the leadership were women. On a weighted average basis, the proportion of women in leadership teams of prominent US ventures capital firms was 15%. This is 19% lower than the comparable datapoint for the ImpactAssets 50.

Reactions from the crowd 
Most people react to these kinds of observations and say that it’s not that bad. I don’t know what their benchmark is, but perhaps they are thinking at 15% is better than none.

But it is that bad. Women make up 50% of the world's population, yet the percentage of women in leadership in VCs shows women are still in a token position when it comes to finance and investment decision-making roles. The ImpactAssets 50 datapoint alludes to the representation being better in impact investing, but it is still highlights an inequity. 

Bonnie Foley-Wong is the Chief Investment Innovator and Pollinator of Pique Ventures, and author of an upcoming book on Integrated Investing. Follow her on Twitter @BonnieOWong and @Pique_V. This article first appeared on