Melbourne Business School News #CountHerIn: Five impactful ways to invest in women

#CountHerIn: Five impactful ways to invest in women

Our faculty members explain how to take meaningful steps towards gender equity this International Women's Day.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is about driving women's economic empowerment, removing obstacles to equal participation in the economy and embracing gender-responsive financing.

To mark the occasion, Melbourne Business School faculty members share ways that leaders and organisations can help make these aspirations a reality.

Jenny George: Tell women they're worth investing in

Jenny George portrait 2023 

When Professor Jenny George first joined the School as a lecturer, she began interviewing MBA applicants and quickly noticed a difference in the way men talked about themselves compared with women.

"Many of them of course realised that this was a big commitment, a commitment of time and effort and a commitment of money," she says.

"Men would talk about this as an investment that their family was making for a family payoff.

"But when I talked to women, they would tend to talk about it as a sacrifice and they would be quite reluctant to make their family pay that sacrifice for them.

"Women have somehow internalised a narrative that possibly they're not worth it."

Now Dean of Melbourne Business School, Professor George recommends taking steps to change that narrative with a relatively simple gesture this International Women's Day.

"Find a woman you admire. A talented woman. Someone with real potential, and tell her she's worth it. Tell her she deserves to be invested in," she says.

"That investment is not just for herself, it's for her family. And more than that, for all of us.

"We will have a better world if we have women who've been invested in, if we have women who are capable of stepping up, of taking roles and responsibilities, of being the people we need them to be in our society."

Nadia Massoud: Introduce gender-responsive financing

Nadia Massoud 2 

Gender-responsive financing is the practice of designing financial strategies and mechanisms in a way that promotes gender equality, and makes financial products and services accessible for women, says Professor Nadia Massoud.

"For example, if women want to start a business, they need access to funds," she says.

"Who is going to provide these funds? What we witness is there is imbalance in providing funding to different genders.

"For men, it is much easier for them to finance their idea or innovation, and it's much harder for a woman to achieve those objectives.

"If we don't promote the empowerment of women, that means we have 50 per cent of the population that are underproductive."

Professor Massoud, who teaches finance and financial management on our MBA programs as well as the Fintech and Blockchain for New Economies short course, says gender-responsive financing can come in many forms.

These include providing women greater access to financing their mortgage, study or business; promoting financial literacy; creating mentorship, vocational and scholarship programs for women; and updating government policies that hinder women from a field of work or study.

“At present, we lack agile execution of policies for gender-responsive financing, particularly during crises such as conflicts, wars, and pandemics.

"For example, the ongoing war in Gaza underscores the urgent need for programs that support women's livelihoods and health. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender disparities in health outcomes, further impacting women's financial wellbeing.

"I remember when I was in the Middle East, where I grew up, I wanted to study medicine. I couldn't achieve my dreams because I am female and because of my nationality," she says.

"That's why I migrated to Canada – because I was denied opportunities. I got scholarships and these things were very helpful for me and I was able to achieve what I wanted."

Isabel Metz: Make sure CEO actions match words

Isabel Metz 2024 

CEOs are critical to achieving gender equity within organisations, because they have more power to launch diversity initiatives and ensure they are adequately resourced.

But diversity initiatives only work when a CEO's behaviour reflects a commitment to gender equity as well, says Professor Isabel Metz.

"I recall a CEO of a large company who asked me to investigate why, despite the organisation having world-class gender equality policies and practices, women's representation at almost all levels continued to be low," she says.

Professor Metz found that despite saying the right things and supporting the right initiatives, the CEO had failed to show commitment to gender equity in their own actions, which undid their efforts to facilitate change elsewhere.

"The CEO understood the problem, was aware of the solutions, valued the principle of equal opportunity to workplace participation and allocated resources to address the problem," she says.

"Yet, when positions became available in their top management team, the CEO failed to appoint more women. As a result, others in the organisation did not believe that gender equality was a strategic priority."

The personal actions of a CEO can have a profound ripple effect across organisations and engender scepticism if they fail to match up with rhetoric, says Professor Metz.

"It is CEO commitment that makes us do what we do, even if the payoff is not understood or visible," she says.

"CEOs signal their commitment to gender equality through their words and actions over time. If the talk and the walk align, then the signals the CEO sends are consistent over time, and thus believable.

"Otherwise, scepticism grows about gender equality in participation in the workforce being a strategic priority and the status quo is maintained."

Ash Francisco: Make finance accessible for Indigenous women

Ash Francisco in Yarrabah QLD 

Lack of access to capital is a major barrier for First Nations women who aren't supported by the same levels of intergenerational wealth, says Wiradjuri woman Dr Ash Francisco from the Dilin Duwa Centre for Indigenous Business Leadership.

Dr Francisco is a researcher who specialises in the Indigenous future of work and business development, as well as a graduate of the MURRA Indigenous Business Program. She says the ability of First Nations women to participate meaningfully in the economy is often constrained by historical forces outside their control.

"A lot of valuable assets have been removed from Aboriginal communities throughout the colonial project," she says.

"There needs to be that sort of understanding of the impact of what that means today."

Dr Francisco says part of the solution involves removing 'one size fits all' requirements for financial products and developing innovative solutions that improve access for Indigenous women.

"The rigidity of lending terms really needs to have a review," she says.

"Looking at alternative ways of putting up collateral to guarantee loans, how can we look at that a bit differently?

"How can we look at that also from a community or a collective experience? What lending opportunities could we have for, say, a woman's council versus an individual woman's business?"

Solutions that meet the needs of lenders as well as Indigenous people are possible through genuine collaboration with First Nations communities, Dr Francisco says.

"It sounds so basic, but the reality is we're still in this space where policy and programs are made up and developed without true consultation. Genuine conversations need to happen which focus on changing the status quo."

Phil Dolan: Invest in women-led startups

Professor Phillip Dolan, Inaugural Executive Director, Institute for the Future of Business, April 2023 

Professor Phil Dolan from the Institute for the Future of Business has been investing his own money for the past six years through Scale Investors, a network of angel investors specialising in women-founded startups.

"Part of the reason I'm keen to invest in such startups is that women on average struggle to get taken as seriously as male founders do, so you really feel you make a difference," he says.

But Professor Dolan, who has a PhD in Finance from Stanford University, says the decision is a smart move financially as well as socially.

"Because it's very early stage, you know you're going to get surprises," Professor Dolan says.

"My experience has been – and the research demonstrates – female founders on average produce more positive surprises."

Professor Dolan says preconceptions about what a successful founder looks like can hurt investors in the long run.

"If you just limit yourself to investing in male-founded businesses, you are ruling out a significant fraction of the potential sector, and you just make it that much harder for yourself to deliver an acceptable return."

"If you look at somewhere like Canva for instance, Melanie Perkins – who was one of the founders – was at the University of Western Australia arts faculty. She had a good idea, she took it to the next level, and the business is now worth billions.

"But if you'd had stereotypes about what a successful founder looks like, it wouldn't have been a 23- or 24-year-old arts student from Perth."

You can learn more about International Women's Day at the UN Women Australia website.

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