Advancing women's equality in Canada isn’t just socially responsible; it would add CDN$150 billion to the GDP by 2026. On average, the GDP will grow by 6%, and every province will grow between 0.4% and 0.9% annually. However, the low participation rate of women in some sectors, such as business ownership and investment in public and private financial markets, could slow down the advancement. Increasing women's sector mix and labor force participation are important drivers of an increased GDP. Recently, Shelley Kuipers, a financial leader and CO-CEO of the financial platform "The51", gave us a general overview of women's current and potential future participation in the capital market. She shared some strategies that have helped increase the number of women investing in the capital market and future goals for her organization. The highlight of our conversation follows:
Please present the work and your organization's goal. What inspired you to create such a platform for women in the capital market?
Shelley: We are a financial platform explicitly inviting women and gender-diverse people to participate as early-stage investors in companies led or owned by women. The organization was named "The51" because women make up 51% of the population but only receive 2.2% of all venture capital globally. Our objective is to be influential financial innovators and build women's capacity – their financial understanding, literacy, and knowledge about investing, thereby building confident early-stage venture investors. Our goal is to activate CDN $2.5 billion of women's capital by 2030.
What strategies do you use to increase women's participation in economic growth through capital investment?
Shelley: We have developed an educational program called the Financial Feminism Investing Lab. There is an investor edition and a founder edition, so the lab offers catered, financial feminist, educational content for investors and founders respectively. It has everything to do with financial literacy, and knowledge about investing and building an early-stage venture with that financial wherewithal. Education is the first strategy; that's where we can tap into women's curiosity. We can help women to build confidence about all things financial, and then they can go out into the broader ecosystem and get activated. Some of them will get started with our organization.
Another strategy is giving women the space to have a conversation about the information or the wisdom that they don't yet have, and to access actual peer wisdom across their community. So, it's not about being the smartest in the room; it's about the collective intelligence and the collective wisdom across that community.
One more strategy we have on our to do list, is to commit some funds to the research of financial feminism in partnership with universities across Canada. This will significantly help us track towards our goal of CDN $2.5 billion by 2030.
What do you think are the main barriers/ challenges that reduce women's participation in the financial market?
Shelley: The main barriers are related to the lack of financial literacy among women and communities where women can advance their education. We created a safe environment for women to ask the questions they were otherwise afraid to ask—our investor community. Finally, the current research on financial feminism across Canada is highly insufficient, hindering a fast advancement.
How big is your community, and how fast has it grown?
Shelley: We started our community started with 75 women in March 2019. Today, we are more than 19,000. We have activated more than 125 investors in our program, and those investors who graduate from our lab and go on to become investors in the broader ecosystem; some of them activate with The51. But, most importantly, we are building women’s and gender-diverse folks’ capacity as early-stage investors.
To conclude, it is worth noting that the rate of women entrepreneurs and those investing in public and private markets are growing. Women-led companies on Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) and TSX Venture Exchange (TSXV) raised CDN$1.6B in 2021, up significantly from CDN$488M in 2020. Women are getting more funds as investors and making investment decisions based on the Gender Lens Investing approach. The gender lens investing initiative recommends investors consider gender-based factors such as:
- - investing more in women-owned or women-led enterprises.
- - investing in enterprises that promote workplace equity (in staffing, management, boardroom representation, and along their supply chains);
- - or investing in enterprises that offer products or services that substantially improve the lives of women and girls.