What does it mean for gender-smart investors when women run the economy?

From left to right: US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

The popular belief that women run economies differently than men do isn’t just based on gender stereotypes. Increasingly, as more women take the helm of our global financial institutions, there is evidence that it is grounded in reality.

In an article for Reuters this week, journalist Andrea Shal wrote about the impact that women leaders such as US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, and United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai are already having on the US economy — tying their influence to new policy initiatives such as the Biden administration’s $400B investment in the care economy, and focus on closing the racial wealth gap as a key part of its $2T infrastructure package.

This difference in approach isn’t because women are innately kinder or more community oriented (although one person quoted in the Reuters article said that Yellen was the first Treasury Secretary he’d worked with to talk about empathy or vulnerable communities), but because our lived experience enables us to see different challenges and opportunities.

In short, gender- and racially-diverse teams — like the ones Biden has created in his Cabinet and Treasury — make smarter decisions based on more complete information. A gender diverse team, for example, is more likely to recognize that, as New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and others put it on Twitter, care is infrastructure as much as roads and bridges are.

Historically, our economic institutions have been amongst the least gender-diverse of all institutions globally. In the Reuters article, Shalal notes that while 57 women have been heads of state over the last half-century, the world’s economic institutions have been almost unilaterally run by men. But that’s starting to change. On a global scale, Yellen, Raimondo, and Tai are joined by Christine Lagarde at the European Central Bank, Kristalina Georgieva at the IMF, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the World Trade Organization — who is also the first African to head the organization. (Tai is the first woman of color to be appointed the US Trade Representative.)

This is good news for gender-smart investors, many of whom are already investing in the areas that the world’s largest economy is just now waking up to. We already know that care is foundational to a functioning economy, and that entrepreneurs and communities of colour are vastly underinvested. We also know that, as Criterion Institute detailed in their 10 Points of Materiality whitepaper last year, gender is integral to the way people use and experience technology, transport, and other key infrastructure.

Even though some of these areas may seem new to some readers, women have been innovating in them for a very long time. And if you’re not already investing in them, now is the time to start.

In areas like the care economy, public sector investment is likely to fuel the growth of both the sector and the innovative companies that are already leading the way. Some of these opportunities will be what infrastructure investors refer to as “shovel ready” — they’re ready to be rolled out and scaled, and just need the capital to fuel their growth — while others are still early in their development and require more patient capital.

For commercial investors who are wary of investing in still-nascent sectors, blended finance vehicles can offer an opportunity to bring together different types of capital in a low-risk way. For more impact-first investors, this moment presents an opportunity to use our investor or philanthropic capital in collaboration with public stimulus and policy in tandem with smart commercial investors to back the solutions that are most needed.

The growing gender and racial diversity in our economic institutions also opens up new opportunities for gender-smart investors to work with and influence public policy. As Patience Marime-Ball talked about at the GenderSmart Investing Summit in February, we need to expand our presence in the rooms where decisions get made: be it in government, at the stock exchange, or in institutional capital. Does the presence of women at some of the most powerful economic tables in the world open things up for our field to have more seats at all the tables?

As always, remember that gender-smart investing isn’t solely about investing in women leaders and entrepreneurs: it’s an expansive and intersectional lens that encompasses products, supply chains, policies and practices, supply chains, ecosystems, and more.

And if you’re new to gender-smart investing and looking for help finding opportunities and learning how to do it well, there is a whole community of investors in the ecosystem who are ready to help you. To learn more, head to gendersmartinvesting.com.

Catalyst at Large