What we learned about gender-smart investing in 2020

suzanne biegel
5 min readJan 6, 2021


Image: May Chanikran

If 2020 taught us one thing, it’s that the future will continue to unfold in ways we can’t predict.

The global crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic (and later, the Black Lives Matter protests and reckoning) forced all of us to change our plans for the year: from the solutions we were building, to speed at which we were building them, to how we would release them into the world, to the questions we asked ourselves and each other about what “good” looks like when it comes to alpha, equity, and impact.

But the year also featured plentiful bright spots in the world of gender-smart investing. Some of these were funds, commitments, and collaborations that had been in the works for years. Others emerged in response to the needs of the moment, or found new enthusiasm, support, or impact due to the unique set of challenges we were facing.

As we dive headfirst into 2021, I wanted to take a moment to recognize these tremendous accomplishments, growth, and forward momentum in what was a difficult and unexpected year for everyone.

Maybe we didn’t accomplish as much as we thought we would have at the end of 2019, but given the myriad of crises in the world, it’s astonishing what did get moved forward and something to be positive about.

What we achieved in 2020

2020 was the year the gender lens investing community really began to talk about power. It was the year that we called ourselves to account on racial equity, and deepened our commitment to inclusivity and intersectionality. It was the year we went deep on the process of how we invest, not just what we’re investing in. More men began to show up as advocates and allies (in part, perhaps because of the recognition of women’s roles in the world in the context of COVID and perhaps because of the evidence that just keeps coming out about the power of diverse teams.)

We saw a swathe of powerful new toolkits, resources, and thought leadership: among them, the B-Team on Gender Balance and Inclusive Cultures, CDC’s Gender Toolkit, the Criterion Institute on Gender-Based Violence and Investing with an LGBTQI Lens, the IFC’s and CDC’s Fund Manager’s Guide to Gender Lens Investing, Project Sage’s third scan of gender lens funds in the private markets, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors’ Impact Investing Handbook, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation’s report on gender lens investing in East and Southeast Asia, Value for Women’s guide to investing with a gender lens in emerging markets, the global Women in VC directory, and many more.

It was also the year that Citigroup’s Jane Fraser was announced as the first woman to run a major US bank, and former Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen was nominated as Joe Biden’s Secretary of Treasury. If Yellen’s nomination is successful, in 2021 we will have women at the helm of the US Treasury, the IMF, the European Central Bank, as well as the World Bank Chief Economist — that’s more women in public sector finance positions than at any point in history.

When it comes to capital deployed, 2020 saw some tremendous new and achieved gender-smart allocations. In December, Japanese pension fund GPIF announced a new $2.9 billion investment into Morningstar’s new Gender Diversity Index. In June, the 2X Challenge celebrated its achievement of mobilizing $4.5 billion in gender-smart investments in two years, exceeding by fifty percent its initial goal of mobilizing $3 billion by the end of 2020 (and six months ahead of deadline, at that). These announcements are significant not just for the scale of money moved, but for their focus on deploying it where it will have maximum impact. Morningstar’s Gender Diversity Index is based on the world-class data and scoring methodology created by Equileap, while 2X Challenge Criteria has been embraced by investors around the world to increase the impact of their investments in gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

2020 also continued to see enormous growth in the number of gender lens investment vehicles, especially in the private markets. Project Sage 3.0, published in the summer of 2020 based on data collected in 2019, tracked 138 funds. Today, we’re tracking more than 210 funds. In the public markets, Adasina Social Capital launched JSTC, a new social justice-focused ETF investing in companies that have a positive impact on racial, gender, economic, and climate justice. And in December, Impact Investment Exchange (IIX) launched their third Women’s Livelihood BondTM.

Finally, gender-smart investors stepped up time and time again to play their part in helping to solve the challenges that defined the year. With the pandemic’s economic impact falling disproportionately on women, DFAT’s Investing in Women initiative launched the RISE Fund to support women-owned SMEs in Southeast Asia, while Mastercard invested $20 million in CNote to help women- and minority-owned businesses recover from the pandemic. For fund managers working at the intersection of gender, race and ethnicity, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement mid-year saw an increase in both capital and attention. To help leverage this increased interest, intermediaries such as VC Include connected investors with diverse fund managers, while Launch with GS welcomed its first Black and Latinx Entrepreneur Cohort.

What’s next for 2021?

As the COVID-19 vaccine slowly gets distributed and we begin to move beyond the pandemic, gender will continue to matter: both for economic recovery, and for justice. As the Criterion Institute detail in their 10 Points of Materiality paper, investors who want to deploy their capital smartly in 2021 would do well to invest in women-led businesses, economies with higher rates of women’s participation in the workforce, and businesses that are paying attention to the gendered impacts of unpaid care, remote work, and gender-based violence.

I predict that 2021 will also see a deepening of the gender-smart investing community’s commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion, and a growth in investment solutions that look beyond silos. The nexus of gender and climate investment will be another key area of growth — stay tuned for a new report from GenderSmart’s Climate and Gender Investing Working Group later this month.

2020 taught us so much about our capacity to deal with uncertainty. And in a world facing complex and intersecting challenges, the ability to lead through uncertainty is a key skill. We need to be willing to carve new paths, and to be open to different mindsets about what works. 2020 gave us a crash course in how to do that.

I will be speaking about all of this in more detail at the GenderSmart Investing Summit on February 1st and 2nd, as part of our State of the Field talks with Jackie VanderBrug and Shalaka Joshi. Follow @GenderSmartIS to keep track of our content.



suzanne biegel

Catalyst at Large and Co-Founder, GenderSmart, investor, change maker, movement building leader. catalystatlarge.com, @zanne2, gendersmartinvesting.com