Women Take the Lead in Impact Investing

BY Julie Davitz

Nov 9th 2020

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed two exciting trends in the finance industry. First, is the rapid rise1 of impact investing, as investors realize how they can make a difference in solving profound global problems. Second, is the slow but steady rise of women leaders. These developments are intertwined in ways that bode well both for impact investing and for women in finance.

A recent article2 in Fortune confirmed that women are taking the lead in impact investing, which also goes by other names, including sustainable investing or environmental, social and governance (ESG) investing. Women are taking a higher number of leadership positions and more often leading the ESG units at top financial firms. They’re also leading the charge on gender-lens investing, a fast-growing sector which focuses on businesses that are owned by women or have policies in place to treat women more equitably.

Impact investing is here to stay.”

The good news is that impact investing is here to stay. It no longer caters to a niche of socially-conscious investors, but has expanded to serve as a guiding principle for the mainstream investment world. And women can take much of the credit for this shift. Women seem to have a heightened interest in the social impact of their investing—and are controlling an ever-larger slice of the world’s investment dollars.

Women Gain Assets—and Control

Great Wealth Transfer3 is underway. In the coming 25 years, as much as $68 trillion in wealth will pass from baby boomers to their heirs and charity, according to Cerulli Associates. In many cases, this likely will be a male-to-female transfer4 of assets.

The proportion of U.S. households in which women earn more than men has more than doubled5 since 1967. And women are clearly taking greater control of their financial futures. They’re earning a greater proportion of advanced degrees6; they’re starting more and faster-growing businesses7; and there are a growing number8 of women millionaires. If you want to get a sense of the future of investing, look at what women are interested in.

Women “Get” Impact Investing

recent global study9 by our parent company, BNP Paribas, finds that a small majority of high-net-worth women entrepreneurs (51%) already include sustainable and responsible investments in their portfolio.

The same study found that 70% of entrepreneurs (both male and female) are now more willing to consider sustainable and responsible investments than they were just 18 months ago. Women have had an important role in this shift of mindset on the part of all investors.

Women give more to charity than men.”

Women have long been more inclined toward social generosity. Women give more10 to charity than men, which is in line with findings11 that women tend to exhibit greater levels of empathy. In my experience, women are usually the leaders of family foundations started by wealthy families. And recently we’ve seen more high-profile examples of women philanthropic leaders such as Laurene Powell Jobs, MacKenzie Scott (formerly Bezos) and Oprah Winfrey.

So, perhaps it’s no surprise that women are digging deeper into the broader impact of their financial decisions. Many of us assume that only our charitable spending decisions should be made with an eye toward social impact. In fact, financial investments can also be viewed with an impact lens, and women are happy to break down the silo between the two.

One reason it might be easier for women to take this holistic view is because of their different attitude toward investing. Many studies12 have shown that women and men tend to have different investing styles. Men are more likely to focus on the short-term performance of individual investments, while women are more likely to keep their eye on their financial goals. Seen in this context, the need for investments to make a positive impact is just one more goal to consider.

Beyond Financial Returns

Good financial returns are almost always one of those goals; in my experience, women are no less concerned about returns than men. The conventional wisdom has held that investing in good corporate citizens would be a drag on financial performance. But now there is increasing evidence13 that good performance and sustainability are mutually reinforcing. Women understand this: a study from our parent company, BNP Paribas, also found that women are substantially more likely than men to believe that returns in sustainable investments can be the same or better after five years.

When I attend industry events, I’m heartened to see panels full of high-powered women from throughout the world of finance. I’m encouraged to see new mutual funds and ETFs focused on companies that are managed by women or are committed to gender equality. I’m also seeing angel investing groups that help their members find great women-owned companies.

It’s easy for women (or anyone) to get started with impact investing. Learn more about it, how to choose the right investments for you and your impact goals and how to choose an advisor who really understands the idea. And finally, link up with women-led groups like Women Power Our Planet that help women understand how their investments can make a better world.

Women can already take much of the credit for impact investing’s entrance into the mainstream. And if that ultimately makes the world a better place, then we’re happy to take some credit for that achievement as well.


  1. Reuters, “Socially Conscious” mutual fund launches at record high, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-funds-esg/socially-conscious-mutual-fund-launches-at-record-high-idUSKCN1PV127.
  2. Fortune, Responsible investing is a rare field of finance led by women. Now it’s hot—and men want in, https://fortune.com/2020/01/24/responsible-esg-investing-women-finance/.
  3. Cerulli Associates, The Great Wealth Transfer, https://info.cerulli.com/HNW-Transfer-of-Wealth-Cerulli.html.
  4. Barron’s, In the Coming Wealth Transfer, Don’t Forget Widows and Gen X, https://www.barrons.com/articles/in-the-coming-wealth-transfer-dont-forget-widows-and-gen-x-51574184429
  5. Center for American Progress, Breadwinning Mothers Continue To Be the U.S. Norm, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2019/05/10/469739/breadwinning-mothers-continue-u-s-norm/
  6. AEI, Women earned majority of doctoral degrees in 2018 for 10th straight year and outnumber men in grad school 139 to 100, https://www.aei.org/carpe-diem/women-earned-majority-of-doctoral-degrees-in-2018-for-10th-straight-year-and-outnumber-men-in-grad-school-139-to-100/
  7. American Express, 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, https://s1.q4cdn.com/692158879/files/doc_library/file/2019-state-of-women-owned-businesses-report.pdf
  8. Bloomberg, Women Millionaires Top Men on Average Wage Earnings in U.S., https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-27/female-millionaires-earned-more-than-men-in-the-u-s-on-average
  9. BNP Paribas, 2020 Global Entrepreneur Report, https://www.wealthmanagement.bnpparibas.com/en/expert-voices/2020-global-entrepreneur-report-part-1.html
  10. Wall Street Journal, The Gender Gap in Charitable Giving, https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-gender-gap-in-charitable-giving-1454295689
  11. International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing, Gender differences in charitable giving, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1002/nvsm.432?mod=article_inline
  12. Warwick Business School, Are women better investors than men?, https://www.wbs.ac.uk/news/are-women-better-investors-than-men/
  13. The Motley Fool, Does ESG Investing Produce Better Stock Returns?, https://www.fool.com/investing/2019/05/22/does-esg-investing-produce-better-stock-returns.aspx


Impact investing focuses on investments in companies that relate to certain sustainable development themes beyond traditional financial factors and demonstrate adherence to environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices. Therefore the universe of investments may be limited and investors may not be able to take advantage of the same opportunities or market trends as investors that do not use such criteria. This could result in relative investment performance deviating from other strategies or broad market benchmarks, depending on whether such sectors or investments are in or out of favor in the market.

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