What we’re investing in | Part 6 | Playbook: Investing in Gender Equality

Welcome to Playbook: Investing in Gender Equality, a six-part blog series that explores why and how an investment program is an essential part of the Equality Fund’s work to shift power to women, youth, girls, and non-binary people around the world. Through the lens of six “P”s (Purpose, People and Partners, Perspectives, Process, Philosophy, and Products), we will share our approach to gender-lens investing and illuminate the values, strategy, and structure that guide it.


By Bonnie Foley-Wong

At the Equality Fund, we are confident that a more equal world is within our reach—one in which all women, youth, girls, and non-binary people have the power and freedom to choose their own path and realize their own dreams. And we’re not alone.

In 2019, the Government of Canada announced a $300 million CAD contribution to the Equality Fund Initiative—the largest single contribution ever made by a government in connection with feminist movements. The Equality Fund’s investment program guides the investment activities and the investment strategy for this contribution—in collaboration with our close partners the Toronto Foundation and World University Service of Canada.

Why Invest with a Gender Lens

When seen through a gender lens, deep patterns of gender inequality across our economic and social systems reveal significant untapped investment opportunities.

  • Women-managed funds perform just as well as funds managed by their male counterparts, yet women manage less than four percent of capital in the investment industry.
  • In 2020, on average, women made $0.87 CAD for every dollar made by men in Canada—and in the U.S., women made just $0.81 USD. For Indigenous and racialized women, the wage gap is even wider. Based on the last census in Canada in 2016, Indigenous women working full-time earned $0.65 CAD for every dollar non-Indigenous men made. Racialized women earned only $0.67 CAD compared to non-racialized men. Based on the U.S. census data from 2019, Indigenous women working full-time earned $0.60 USD for every dollar made by non-Indigenous men. Black women and Latina women in the U.S. earned $0.63 USD and $0.55 USD respectively for every dollar made by non-racialized men. There is evidence that closing the wage gap and increasing women’s participation in the workforce creates economic prosperity and growth.
  • Women-led and women-owned businesses are significant contributors to the global economy, yet are under-capitalized and under-resourced.

By targeting these gaps, the Equality Fund has an opportunity to generate financial and social returns simultaneously. In this way, gender-lens investing is a key part of our commitment to use every single tool in our toolbox to contribute towards a gender-equal future and leverage and accelerate change. That is why, and how, we are building a new model to support the work of feminist movements sustainably—one that includes the power of gender-lens investing.


We go beyond traditional systems of selecting investment opportunities, which for decades have focused on financial metrics, industry, size, or sector. Instead, we work towards a healthier and better feedback loop—one in which gender impacts and metrics are critical to all investment decisions, ensuring that they contribute to a gender-equal world.

Gender-lens investing is on the cusp of entering the mainstream, but it will take a commitment from all of us to use our voices to ensure we reach this full potential. Now is the time for even more institutions and individuals investing with a gender lens to be more vocal about and to actively explain their practices. If we do that together, we believe that gender-lens investing can become the definitive way of investing all around the world.

What we’re investing in

Working in partnership with the Toronto Foundation and RockCreek, the Equality Fund is investing its capital with a gender lens across a diversified, multi-asset portfolio.

We define gender-lens investing as investing with the intent to address gender issues or promote gender equity. It means taking into consideration the participation, needs, realities, and leadership of both women and men in the strategy and process that informs investment decision-making.

Today, the total value of private capital invested with a gender lens is estimated to be more than $4.8B globally (up from $2.2B in 2018). And the growth of gender-lens strategies for stocks and bonds (public markets) surpassed $3.4B at the end of 2019 (rising from a total of $2.4B in 2018). That’s a market opportunity of over $8B globally, up from $5B in 2018. And we want to grow this field, by investing in gender-lens funds, creating new gender-lens investment opportunities, and helping other investors integrate this into their portfolios as well.

Some of the Equality Fund’s capital is invested in established gender-lens funds invested in public equity, which gives us critical exposure to and experience with public companies that adhere to a diverse set of gender frameworks and methodologies. We are also excited to be working with a number of excellent, women-led and gender-balanced investment teams and managers to design and develop new opportunities and strategies—all fully aligned with the mission of advancing gender equality.

The Equality Fund wants investments with positive and powerful impacts, particularly opportunities with a gender lens that can achieve financial performance and create meaningful advancements for gender equality. And we know that other investors are seeking the same. We can’t afford to sacrifice investment returns but equally, we can’t afford to invest in a way that is at cross purposes to our mission of advancing gender equality. It is why we are putting both the investment returns and capital to work.

The Equality Fund’s portfolio is invested in global equity (approximately 60 percent) and fixed income, currently focused on North America, developed international markets, and with emerging markets exposure. Here are some of the highlights from our investment portfolio:

  • Two new public equity products, an Equality Fund Gender Equality Tracker Note and an Equality Fund Gender Equality Fixed Yield Note, provided by RBC Capital Markets, co-designed with the Equality Fund, and applying the Solactive Equileap Global Gender Equality framework as the gender screen.
  • A new fixed income strategy, Equality Fund RockCreek Fixed Income Strategy, partnering with RockCreek and a women-led investment management firm, also applying the Solactive Equileap Global Gender Equality framework as the gender screen.
  • We have recently launched a sustainable development bond focused on gender equality with the World Bank using the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a framework to achieve impact, the World Bank Sustainable Development Bond, Linked to SDG5.

A variety of external and internal gender lens frameworks are utilized throughout the portfolio strategy to capture the broadest criteria for gender lens investing and what is best suited for each asset class

These strategies are new, which means we have limited financial and impact performance information to share at this early stage. But we are deeply committed to sharing more information as it is available—and, even more fundamentally, to learning and iterating together. If you’re an investment innovator and are enthusiastic about forging this new path alongside the Equality Fund, please contact us to learn more about these investment strategies.

Where profit and progress meet

Gender equality benefits everyone—creating the conditions we need for a more stable, peaceful, and sustainable future.

With gender-lens investing, all of us have a breakthrough opportunity to invest in this future in ways that will generate financial and social returns at the same time, and for generations to come. If you are curious about making your money work with impact, we invite you to contact us for a conversation.

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