By definition, a lens is a tool that brings into focus what would otherwise be unclear. Accordingly, a "gender lens" aims to provide clarity and insight around complex social and cultural constructions of gender.
In bringing the dynamics of gendered systems and cultures into better focus, a gender lens enables both opportunity identification and, when necessary, an informed critique. It is a particularly important tool because gender is highly contextual, so analyses of its less obvious variables can bring surprising insights.
Over time, this tool has been used both formally and informally across a range of disciplines and sectors. The investment industry, and particularly the development sector, pioneered the use of a gender lens in its pursuit of social returns on investment. Many development efforts include gender as a critical category of analysis in all decision-making. Investors use a gender lens to surface opportunities for greater return on investments, as well as to ensure that projects aimed at improving social conditions don’t have unintended consequences.
A “gender blind” approach to decision-making and systems design not only obscures opportunities but also runs the risk of further disadvantaging individuals who already experience less power and privilege by virtue of existing gender dynamics.
In the early 2000s, a staggering array of studies emerged that revealed the importance of women in the global economy. This begged the question: "What value could a gender lens in investing unlock?" Around 2010, a movement began to coalesce around this potential and began to build the Gender Lens Investing field.
To be clear, this was not only about "investing in women."
Gender Lens Investing is the deliberate incorporation of gender factors into investment analysis and decision-making. Early gender lens investing field builders created a three lens Venn Diagram as a framework to help investors focus their analyses as they developed gender lens investing strategies: Access to Capital, Workplace Equity, Products & Services. Mainstreaming gender across one or multiple of these three lenses provides insight into an investment opportunity's likelihood of success.
Because so few companies use sophisticated gender-informed strategies along the value chain, those who do are positioning themselves for massive competitive advantage.