8 relationships every gender-smart investor needs — and how to build them
When it comes to investing, our relationships shape what investment opportunities we’re exposed to, how we are perceived, who influences our thinking, and how we execute. And when it comes to our work in shifting the financial system, our relationships determine our ability to move the people and institutions that need to be moved, how we mobilise collective impact, and our ability to withstand the ups and downs of doing difficult work.
Here are eight kinds of relationships we should all be fostering as gender-smart investors, and some ideas on how to cultivate them.
People who can help you spot and connect with diverse opportunities. Investing is all about relationships, and if you want to diversify your investment pipeline, you need to diversify your network. If you’re mostly investing in male founders, could you join an angel group investing in women entrepreneurs? If your investments are mostly in white women, is there a woman of colour-led accelerator you could connect with? Similarly, you can use your influence and expertise to help others in your network diversify their deal pipelines. When I first started gender lens investing, I deliberately joined a male-led angel network instead of a women’s network with the intentional goal of shifting their mostly-male investment base.
People outside the finance industry who have the expertise you need to achieve your impact goals. Gender experts, women’s rights groups, and people with lived experience of the issues you’re addressing have as much to contribute to your gender lens investing strategy as people with expertise on vehicle structures, business models, and markets — but their knowledge and insights are often undervalued. Consider: who is close to the problem you’re trying to solve, and whose expertise is undervalued? And what can you learn from them?
People who are in a position to shift structures and institutions. As Patience Marime-Ball of the Women of the World Endowment commented at the 2021 GenderSmart Investment Summit, if we have a mission of shifting the financial system, gender-smart investors need to be in every room where decisions get made. This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone, and intentionally spending time in communities where you’re the odd person out. If you’re someone who is already in those rooms, it might mean lending your power to get other voices into them.
Innovators who are test-driving new ideas and developing new products. If you’re a financial institution and you want to come out with the most innovative products in a competitive marketplace, where are you going to find those new ideas? It helps to look to and collaborate with the cutting edge thinkers (or “disruptors,” as per an article I published in 2020) outside your organisation. A great example is SheEO’s partnership with the Bank of Montreal, which has changed the way it supports women business owners based on SheEO’s expertise on what a particular class of entrepreneurs in Canada want and need.
Financial intermediaries, both new and established, play the critical role of financial and legal structuring, and capital raising. Their job is to make sure that a solution works for all parties. In order to build financial vehicles that are responsive to the needs of stakeholders who have historically been excluded from these conversations, we need to recognise the important role that these intermediaries play. There is also an opportunity to cultivate and support a new set of women, and in particular women of colour, intermediaries we are starting to see emerge.
A great team of lawyers, accountants, and marketing people to provide the infrastructure your work needs to thrive and get your ideas seen by the world. At their best, these people are not just service providers but true partners in your work. For example, I am so grateful for GenderSmart’s relationship with Hogan Lovells, who are not only our lawyers, but a financial partner and a thought partner in our work on Project Aurora and the JEDI Investing Toolkit.
Trusted critics who are going to tell you the truth about what you’re missing, who you’re missing, and where your potential pitfalls may be. Ideally, they are solution oriented and people you can really be honest with. And they should not only come from your inner circle. There is a lot you can learn from listening to voices you’re not used to hearing from. Also consider, who can you be a trusted critic for?
True friends and community who have your back and help you cultivate resilience when the work is hard, be your honest critic, and be by your side when times are good and when they are tough. See this article I co-wrote last year with my friend Carey Bohjanen, who is exactly that for me.
For more ideas on relationships that could help you in your work, take a look at the Gender Finance Systems Map I co-created with Tara Health Foundation’s Ruth Shaber, Nexial’s Marshall Clemens and Alexandra Kanitz, and Chintal Barot in 2018, which is designed to help you visualise where you sit in the ecosystem, and help you identify the players and institutions you need to influence and collaborate with.
Let me know in the comments what you’re doing to meaningfully cultivate your professional relationships beyond the usual suspects — and what types of relationships you’d like to cultivate more of.