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Gender Lens Investing: Progress for Women?

Author: Emma Jones

Bio: Emma is a first year student in International and Development Studies, specialising in Gender, Race and Diversity. She is particularly interested in intersectional feminism and disability inclusion within financial and development spheres. Alongside completing her BA at the University of Nottingham, she worked and volunteered in countries such as China, Tanzania, Canada, the US, and across Europe.

What is GLI?

Whilst there is no doubt that the worlds of investment, trading, and now even cryptocurrency have thus far been male-dominated, investing is opening up as a field with much more scope and concern for the advancement of gender equality.

A key example of this is Gender Lens Investing (GLI), which the Criterion Institute defines as ‘the incorporation of a gender analysis into the practice of investments and the systems of finance. This includes how value is assigned, how relationships are structured, and how processes work’ (2019, p.3). It entails deliberately integrating gender analysis into the workplace, and decision-making. GLI also means that investment and programmes are focusing more on placing capital into female owned or led SMEs, companies with safe and inclusive workplaces, or firms whose products or services benefit women and girls (Robino and Jackson 2022, p.672).

GLI has garnered increased global attention in recent years and continues to do so, as investors seek to bring new dimensions to the nature of their investments, and companies face mountingpressure to re-direct towards a sustainable future and the SDGs. From here, how do we go about evaluating GLI and its effectiveness, in terms of its impact upon women’s lives?

GLI and Gender Mainstreaming

Although to some this may appear a fairly new phenomenon, especially in investing, GLI mirrors the concept of gender mainstreaming. First established at the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action in the development sphere, and well advocated for by international organisations, gender mainstreaming gives us a good benchmark to assess and learn from when it comes to GLI. UN Women’s definition of gender mainstreaming is ‘ensuring that gender perspectives and attention to the goal of gender equality are central to all activities - policy development, research, advocacy/dialogue, legislation, resource allocation, and planning, implementation and monitoring of programmes and projects’; it is clear that these dimensions run parallel to the more recent phenomenon of GLI (UN Women, n.d.). The frameworks used to assess gender mainstreaming will be reflected in this short paper on GLI.

GLI Thus Far

If we look at the overall direction that GLI is taking in global markets, the numbers are positive. Demand for GLI has given rise to many gender-focused investment funds across the world. In 2013, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) set up a ‘Women’s Bond,’ which to date has allocated over USD 175 million to women-owned businesses. Since then, Morgan Stanley, Barclays, the Royal Bank of Canada, and other large banks have been increasing the flow of capital to women entrepreneurs and women-led small businesses and cooperatives. In 2018, G7 nations also launched the ‘2x challenge’, (now merging with GenderSmart) mobilising USD 3 billion to economically empower women in the developing world (KPMG, n.d.). So, the market and the intent are there, and indeed the scope goes much beyond the aforementioned examples.

But, GLI still has a long way to go. When assessing GLI and its progress, two crucial dimensions are at play: (1) women as workers for the investment organisation itself and (2) women as beneficiaries of their investment(s).

Women as Workers

As a student at the Geneva Graduate Institute, I was intrigued to see ‘close to home’ examples of GLI in many sustainable finance organisations and banks in Switzerland. Sustainable Finance Geneva’s report outlines Value for Women’s top considerations for a company regarding gender equality in the workplace: talent identification in hiring more women, improving recruitment, reducing hiring bias, retention in keeping women in their roles, and promoting professional development (Sustainable Finance Geneva 2021, p.32).

This is a good start; it would be even better to address these points in more depth to surpass ambiguity. What does ‘improving recruitment’ mean? What specific measures are to be put in place to reduce ‘hiring bias’ and ensure ‘retention’? It would also be beneficial to see the inclusion of crucial factors such as: solid accountability mechanisms and frameworks for each of the factors, addressal of workplace sexism, gender norms and discourse, equal pay, maternity leave, paternity leave, etc.

Also, one of the most important criticisms of GLI is that the majority of strategies disregard race, often resulting in the inclusion of almost only white women. GLI is vastly much more prevalent in investment fields than Racial Equity Investing for example. Fish (2021) importantly argues that we must have gender diversity data disaggregated by race too, so that we can assess measurable progress for women of colour. In this respect, the bank Morgan Stanley has published a ‘Racial Equity Investing Guide’ which does address intersectional approaches (2020, p.4). This is crucial and should be assessed in more detail; I would be curious to learn of their accountability mechanisms, the views of their beneficiaries, and how their Racial Equity Investing actually plays out in practice.

Beyond this important argument of racial inclusion,a well thought-through intersectional approach should be taken. Despite ‘intersectionality’ becoming a buzzword in some fields, there is still value in the concept when used in its intended way, particularly in this context of women as workers in investing. Indeed, in addition to race and gender, there are many important intersections that can impact a person’s life, such as disability, age, ethnicity, and sexuality. Studenroth’s article ‘What's intersectionality in the workplace?’ gives a brief introduction to this (n.d.).

In essence, if something is only working for white, rich, able-bodied, and overall ‘privileged’ women (as GLI has been criticised for), a large share of women are thus excluded, and we must keep this in consideration when assessing workplace GLI. The investment field has taken a good first step with GLI, but we should encourage more attention to wider issues by taking differences into account. There is potential for GLI to be a solid and more inclusive strategy moving forward, and I personally am hopeful.

Women as Beneficiaries

When looking at women who are the beneficiaries of GLI, the assessment of gender mainstreaming in development is relevant, given that both development and GLI initiatives are predominantly in the form of ‘western’ countries as the capital or aid provider, and ‘emerging markets’ or ‘developing countries’ as the beneficiaries. When investors are increasingly turning to more diverse and sustainable channels for their capital, we must keep history in mind. The ongoing effects and legacies of colonialism, westernisation, and the ‘white gaze of development’ (Pailey, 2020) should be taken into consideration across both development and GLI in terms of project planning, delivery, and interactions.

Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion training is an increasing phenomenon in the workplace, but the motivations for this also need to be applied when thinking of investor-beneficiary relations. Increasing grassroots approaches, having diverse and in-country employees (which smaller and medium-sized impact investing organisations are increasingly doing, see BlueOrchard for example), working with locals, and educating staff on topics such as colonial history are some ways to move forward.

Something positive is that, where the development field has been criticised for lack of accountability, in the field of impact investing one is always accountable on a financial basis. Whilst it is not on moral grounds, it is certainly an improvement, and there are also some positive outcomes from the increasing focus on the ‘S’ in ESG.


When assessing GLI, we must remember the environment in which it plays out. It is an investment industry move and not a feminist creation, and thus (unfortunately to some) its language encompasses profitability and a ‘business case’. It goes back to a consequentialist argument of ‘do the ends justify the means?’, when using instrumentalising language in the pursuit of better outcomes for women. An interesting and insightful feminist critique of Gender Impact Investing has been given by AWID (2023). They argue that GLI actually maintains a capitalist status-quo and cannot have good outcomes for women, given its rooting in financial logic. But, at the moment, GLI is one of the few popularised pathways of transforming a dysfunctional, inequitable system, with the incorporation of women’s interests. It has no doubt had many positive outcomes thus far, and the figures are there. The next step is making it better and inclusive, in a way that works for all.

Editor: Hélène Oeuvray


AWID. (2023). Gender Impact Investing & The Rise of False Solutions: An Analysis for Feminist Movements.

Fish, G. (2021). Gender Lens Investing in Public Markets: It’s More Than Women at the Top. Glenmede.

Mission Investors Exchange. (n.d.). Racial Equity & Impact Investing.

Robino, C. and Jackson, E. T. (2022). Editorial: growing gender lens investing in emerging markets, Journal of Sustainable Finance & Investment, 12:3, 671-683, DOI: 10.1080/20430795.2022.2070121

Studenroth, J. (n.d.). What’s intersectionality in the workplace? Understood.

Sustainable Finance Geneva. (2021). Gender Lens Investing Report 2021.

UN Women. (n.d.). Gender Mainstreaming.

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