Investments in this strategy aim to reduce gender inequality by advancing products and services that a) respond to issues uniquely affecting women and gender minorities and/or or b) increase access and add value for women and gender minorities. The sections below include an overview of the strategy for achieving desired goals, supporting evidence, core metrics that help measure performance toward goals, and a curated list of resources to support collecting, reporting on, and using data for decision-making.  


Dimensions of Impact: WHAT

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider the scale of the addressable problem, what positive outcomes might be, and how important the change would be to the people (or planet) experiencing it.

Key questions in this dimension include:

What problem does the investment aim to address? For the target stakeholders experiencing the problem, how important is this change?

Bias in the marketplace leads businesses to undervalue gender considerations. Too few products and services thus respond explicitly to the unique needs of women and gender and sexual minorities (GSM), whether by meaningfully addressing gender-related issues—such as reproductive health or gender-based violence—or by accounting for their needs and preferences. Doing so can add value or increase access to existing products and services.

Products considered to be “gender neutral” that are built without considering the needs or characteristics of specific groups can present negative, even dangerous consequences for their users. “Human” has often meant “men,” with products designed and tested solely on the male form. For example, until recently, seat belts in automobiles were tested using crash test dummies with sizes and weights representing the average man. Tests show that female drivers are 47% more likely than male drivers to be injured in a serious car crash (1).

In contrast, the “pinkwashing” trend—packaging or repackaging products specifically for women or GSM—often reinforces gender stereotypes and attempts to gain a price premium through marketing without adding actual value. A study conducted by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that products or services marketed to women and girls cost an average 7% more than products or services marketed to men (2). Investments in this strategy can:

• increase access to products and services that reduce barriers or challenges for women;
• address issues that disproportionately impact women, girls, and GSM;
• decrease gendered price premiums for products marketed to women and GSM, thus freeing their funds for other priorities; and
• reduce the potential for products and services to have unintended negative consequences.

This strategy requires considerable stakeholder engagement in the development of products and services. For guidance on increasing gender representation in enterprises developing products and services, see the Gender Equitable Workplace Conditions and Gender Equitable Governance, Ownership, and Leadership strategies.

What is the scale of the problem?

The problem is difficult to quantify, but illustrative trends and statistics include the following:

  • Approximately USD 1 billion has been invested in women’s health technology over the past three years, and “femtech” (that is, technology to address women’s health needs) is estimated to grow into a USD 50 billion industry by 2025. Yet investors worldwide place only 10% of their capital in women-led startups, and management teams at major technology companies are largely male and lack diversity (3).
  • Worldwide, 1.2 billion women and girls lack access to menstrual hygiene products, often causing them to miss school and work during their periods (4).
  • Women have historically been excluded or underrepresented from clinical trials, inhibiting the effective prevention, detection, and treatment of diseases in women (5). Women were only required to be participants from clinical trials in the early 1990s (5).
  • Many products, including those marketed to women, contain toxic chemicals linked to a number of women’s health issues, including breast cancer, miscarriages, hormone disruption, and depression. Designing and producing toxin-free alternatives to these products could greatly improve women’s health and well-being.


Dimensions of Impact: WHO

Investors interested in deploying this strategy should consider whom they want to target, as almost every strategy has a host of potential beneficiaries. While some investors may target women of color living in a particular rural area, others may set targets more broadly, e.g., women. Investors interested in targeting particular populations should focus on strategies that have been shown to benefit those populations.

Key questions in this dimension include:

Who (people, planet, or both) is helped through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

Women: Historically, most products, even those considered “gender neutral,” have been designed with male consumers in mind, so products and services often fail to respond to the needs or realities of women’s lives. Innovation in female-specific reproductive health needs has lagged, for example. Period tracking app Clue launched in 2013 in response to the failure of mainstream health apps to capture this basic data, but Apple only included this functionality in their existing platform in late 2015 (7). Moreover, even Clue’s attempt fell well short of meeting women’s needs (3). The emergence of the femtech sector is demonstrating social and market demand for products meeting women’s health needs, a market opportunity worth an estimated USD 50 billion by 2025 (8). Woman-centered design enables new forms of innovation and ensures products effectively meet women’s unique needs, as well as diminishing any health and safety risks due to inadequate design or testing.

Low-Income Women: Products and services developed and designed to be affordable can increase low-income women’s access to products and services to save time, increase productivity, and improve health, among other types of value such products and services can add to their lives. To achieve this, investors could encourage participatory design processes, which promote the democratization of goods and services (9).

Rural Women: Rural populations present an especially underserved market, isolated from urban centers with transportation challenges that make it difficult to bring products and services to market. Considering these conditions and constraints in design, especially for products and services that require maintenance or replacement parts, is especially critical for increasing rural women’s access to products and services.

Gender and Sexual Minorities: GSM traditionally face high levels of discrimination worldwide. Products and services that consider the importance of safety, dignity, and, in some cases, anonymity for GSM can help meet their needs that may not be met by government services.

Women with Disabilities: People of all genders with disability face increased discrimination and vulnerability. Their needs are also often ignored in the design of traditional products. Increasing access to products and services that are designed while considering women with disabilities can help them avoid isolation and more fully participate in school, the workforce, and social and civic life.

Older Populations: Older populations are often ignored by innovation, including neglect of the practical physical and health needs of an ageing population. Improved and inclusive design processes which target this population could drastically increase elder quality of life and create new, untapped markets (10). To ensure uptake by older populations, innovators should consider both practical and aesthetic properties in the design process.

What are the geographic attributes of those who are affected?

The opportunity for woman-centered design is global, and social impact metrics can be applied to investments in both emerging and developed economies. For instance, financial products and services may target the gendered credit gap that exists globally, albeit to different degrees between emerging and developed economies. Certain financial products may be tailored to meet the explicit needs of unbanked women in rural areas of emerging markets, while others may be designed to provide traditionally marginalized groups of women in developed markets with access to loans.


Dimensions of Impact: CONTRIBUTION

Investors considering investing in a company or portfolio aligned with this strategy should consider whether the effect they want to have compares to what is likely to happen anyway. Is the investment's contribution ‘likely better’ or ‘likely worse’ than what is likely to occur anyway across What, How much and Who?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How can investments in line with this Strategic Goal contribute to outcomes, and are these investments’ effects likely better, worse, or neutral than what would happen otherwise

Investing in products and services to address gender inequality can create far better outcomes worldwide than would otherwise occur, with specific opportunities to address inequalities in access to and quality of healthcare, education, and nutrition, among other crucial areas.

How Much

Dimensions of Impact: HOW MUCH

Investors deploying capital into investments aligned with this strategy should think about how significant the investment's effect might be. What is likely to be the change's breadth, depth, and duration?

Key questions in this dimension include:

How many target stakeholders can experience the outcome through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

The scale of outcome depends on the particular product or service offering and the intended end user. For example, an estimated 275,000 of the 527,000 women diagnosed with cervical cancer each year will die, even though the disease is highly treatable if caught in the first five years. Projections suggest that by 2030 roughly half a million individuals will die of cervical cancer each year, with 98% of those deaths in developing countries. Services that carefully consider gender- and context-specific challenges to providing accessible screening for cervical cancer—services like Mobile ODT, one of the illustrative investments listed below—can help reduce these fatalities (11).

Tailoring products and services to meet unique gendered considerations or respond to unique gendered problems presents enormous opportunity for impacting vast numbers of individuals around the world.

How much change can target stakeholders experience through investments aligned with this Strategic Goal?

The size and duration of change depends on the particular product or service offering and the target beneficiary. Examples include the following:

  • Beneficiaries of the Wello Water Wheel, developed to provide women with a safer, more efficient means of collecting clean water in developing countries, have reported 20–100% increases in their income (due to the time savings associated with the wheel), access to 50% more water than before, reduced stress and physical pain due to the product’s design, and benefits to health (12).
  • Financial products and services targeting the specific needs of women in Africa, research suggests, could help close the credit gap between men and women on the continent, boosting the growth of women-led small- and medium-sized enterprises in Africa’s emerging economies and thus ultimately increasing income per capita by 12% (13).


Dimensions of Impact: RISK

Key questions in this dimension include:

What impact risks do investments aligned with this Strategic Goal run? How can investments mitigate them?

Stakeholder Participation Risk: In countries with more pronounced gender inequality, women may be unable or unwilling to fully and openly participate as stakeholders in design processes. The lack of participation puts investments at risk of being less than fully representational of local needs and desired outcomes and thus less likely to be adopted. Engaging community groups that may have knowledge of local needs, that are already trusted by local stakeholders, and that have greater confidence to speak honestly can help to ensure adequate representation of stakeholders’ needs. For more guidance on mitigating Stakeholder Participation Risk, investors may wish to consult the UN Evaluation Group’s (UNEG) Principles for Stakeholder Engagement or the Engaging Vulnerable Populations in Health Impact Assessment report.


Efficiency Risk:  Innovative products and services can help fill gaps and meet needs where other actors, like governments, have been unable to do so. However, these kinds of products or services can risk becoming “band-aid” solutions to issues that structural or policy changes, rather than private-sector interventions, could more efficiently resolve. Structural or policy changes occurring at a later date could also render products or services obsolete.

What are likely consequences of these impact risk factors?

Inappropriately addressing these risks could mean that products or services fail to meet the actual needs of their intended beneficiaries, thus limiting both the impact and adoption of products. Unintended consequences are also possible. In either case, the investee's reputation and financial performance stand at risk. 

Illustrative Investment

In 2016 and 2017, the Tara Health Foundation invested mixed capital in Whole Woman’s Health, a privately-owned group of clinics providing cutting-edge, high-quality, and comprehensive gynecological services, including abortion services, to women in underserved regions of the United States. Since its founding in 2003, Whole Woman’s Health has opened seven facilities nationwide and serves more than 30,000 women annually. The company is also active in politics, training, and education within the communities they serve (16).

NBS Bank partnered with Women’s World Banking and MicroLead to offer the Pafupi Savings account across its network of branches in Malawi. Taking measures to understand their target beneficiaries/clients—investigating, specifying the motivations underlying their savings practices, elucidating their expectations of more formal banking institutions, and identifying different segments of rural women in Malawi—NBS drafted profiles of potential NBS Bank clients (for instance: low-income entrepreneurs, rural subsistence farmers, and cooperative farmers). NBS then held focus groups and interviews with these groups of clients before designing and launching the Pafupi Savings account, which removes barriers to rural women’s access to formal financial services. The bank projects it will have 163,728 active Pafupi accounts by December 2018, with half of this population previously unbanked (17).

In 2017, DAI invested in Mobile ODT to allow the company to expand global penetration of its flagship EVA (Enhanced Visual Assessment) System, which combines advanced optical technology with smartphone capabilities to bring affordable cancer-detection services to underserved communities around the world. The EVA System is relatively cheap, small, easy to transport, and easy to use compared to traditional cervical cancer screening technologies, which are often cumbersome, expensive, and require a continuous supply of electricity (18). In the last 15 months, more than 30,000 women around the world have been screened using the EVA System, which identified 1,628 cases of pre-cancer, 216 cases of suspected invasive cancer, and almost 800 bacterial and/or viral infections, saving potentially several hundred lives through easy, single-visit treatment (19).

Have another illustrative investment we should consider? Let us know!

Draw on Evidence

This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.

Gender diversity within R&D teams: Its impact on radicalness of innovation

Cristina Díaz-García, Angela González-Moreno, Francisco Jose Sáez-Martínez. Gender diversity within R&D teams: Its impact on radicalness of innovation. Innovation: Management, Policy & Practice, 2013; 15 (2): 149 DOI: 10.5172/impp.2013.15.2.149

She for shield : insure women to better protect all

Grown, Caren; Porter-Peschka, Mary; Louat, Natalie; Kolb, Henriette; Olivier, Gaelle; Wattez-Richard, Garance. 2017. She for shield : insure women to better protect all (English). Washington, D.C. : World Bank Group.

Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.

Define Metrics

Core Metrics

This starter set of core metrics — chosen from the IRIS catalog with the input of impact investors who work in this area — indicate performance toward objectives within this strategy. They can help with setting targets, tracking performance, and managing toward success.