In the international development field, it is a settled view that supporting women into enterprise and civil society leadership is one of the most effective avenues to tackle poverty and achieve social justice.
However, in the UK, we know that men outnumber women in commercial start-ups and on the boards and in the top management of companies. We also know that in the social space, there are equal numbers of men and women at the start-up stage, but that women secure less investment, and that men dominate top roles in larger charities and social enterprises.
So why these disparities? Why do we tolerate the situation?
Big Society Capital was honoured to host the launch of The Sky’s The Limit, a report by Ceri Goddard (Director of Equality Innovation at the Young Foundation) and Katherine Miles (consultant and member of the Gender Futures advisory group). This report, by the Young Foundation and supported by Barrow Cadbury Trust, highlights that all social investment and social ventures have a gender impact, whether intentional or not.
We’ve looked up our own performance in this area and found it sadly lacking.
This data is rough and ready and not fully verified, but the imbalance is so overwhelming it’s still telling us something very important.
Of our 45 investments, 9 are run by women (20%), representing just 10.1% of our portfolio by value. Yes, social investors are often drawing on candidates from an investment industry which is even more imbalanced, but it’s our job to design programs to overcome that.
We have to do better than this. We will do better than this: we will be following up with the Young Foundation to identify the most promising changes we can make.
What might these changes look like? It could be at policy level, to review our Theory of Change, origination process, outcomes matrix, or metrics. We could look at our beneficiary groups, Social Impact Tests, or due diligence. We could ensure our practices are gender aware and include gender in ESG. We could host an event to introduce SIFIs to gender equality ventures, consider a pilot fund to address gender based disadvantage, or partner with earlier stage support agencies to develop a pipeline.
Which of these might be the most effective? We are in a better position to decide after listening to our guest speaker, Baroness Glenys Thornton (CEO, the Young Foundation) and the panel discussion at the event comprising of Jonathan Jenkins (CEO, Social Investment Business), Dawn Austwick (CEO, Big Lottery Fund), Emma Stewart (joint CEO, Timewise Foundation) and Debbie Pippard (Head of Programmes, Barrow Cadbury Trust). So we will be following up over the coming months, hopefully with other social investors in common cause.
We know gender equality is central to achieving a strong economy and a healthy, happy society. Social investment is still a relatively new field. It’s still flexible and I’m certain we can fix this. We have a vital window of opportunity in which to integrate gender into our thinking and our actions. As this report shows us, it’s both the right thing to do and the most effective thing to do. It’s time to be intentional, with a purposeful gender lens on social investment.
CEO, Big Society Capital