An Untapped Opportunity for Clean Energy Companies
FMO is partnering with Value for Women to address the untapped opportunity of gender-forward business strategies in its clean energy portfolio
Increasingly, the world’s attention is focusing on clean energy solutions. Now one of the big questions is: will this clean energy transition be inclusive? Development finance institutions (DFIs)— such as the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank FMO — have an important role to play in answering this question. As large and catalytic allocators of capital, DFIs can direct funding to businesses and sectors that have positive environmental and social impacts. They can also influence sectors to do business right.
Of particular note is the compelling, and growing, evidence for why DFIs and other investors should use gender as a lens to support innovation, growth, and inclusionin the clean energy sector.
- Gender inclusion benefits investor returns
The numbers show that applying a gender lens in clean energy investments can improve ROI. For example, investing in women sales agents can help businesses increase sales by as much as 85%; the resulting higher margins translate to higher ROI. Another example is that companies with a higher number of women in leadership in Calvert Impact Capital’s portfolio of private equity and venture capital investments showed 8.6% return on equity compared to 4.4% for others.
- Gender diversity reduces businesses’ emissions
Research by sustainability consultancy A Bird’s Eye View shows that greater gender diversity at the board level means a company is likely to have undertaken more action towards achieving net-zero emissions. Among other actions, companies with more diverse boards are twice as likely to have allocated funding to achieving their emission reduction targets. And research by BIS shows that a 1% increase in the share of female managers leads to a 0.5% decrease in CO2 emissions. Yet women are underrepresented as employees and leaders in the clean energy sector (at around 30% of employees). This is a missed opportunity.
- Gender diversity spurs innovation
Not only does ample research show that more diverse and equal teams tend to produce more innovative solutions (see, for example, here and here), but this is particularly so in the climate innovation space. A report by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation shows that, in addition to the increased likelihood for innovation, gender inclusion in a company further strengthens the specific likelihood of these innovations being green.
- Women customers see greater benefit of clean energy products
Finally, women are more affected by the ecological and socio-economic fallout of climate change, and also tend to benefit disproportionately from access to clean energy. It is therefore critical that women are considered as key consumers, end-users, and beneficiaries of clean energy companies. Plus, half the world’s population is female, so in order for clean energy solutions to be effective and sustainable, they must be inclusive of both men and women.
Recognising these opportunities, FMO is taking on a catalytic role through assisting its clean energy portfolio to become more gender forward. In partnership with Value for Women, FMO is providing funding for 3 clean energy businesses to receive gender-specific technical assistance (TA). This TA is focused on developing and piloting gender-forward business strategies in order to improve business performance.
As a first step, Value for Women took a look at the current application of gender-forward business practices among the clean energy companies in FMO´s portfolio. This entails the extent to which they currently have women among their employees, leadership, consumers and value chain and the types of HR policies and practices they have in place, but also goes deeper. For example, we ask companies whether gender equality is an important component of their business values, and assess whether they practically underwrite this value with specific budget, policies, or trainings. We also consider the extent to which companies take into consideration gendered factors in their product design, market research, marketing and sales approaches, and after-sales support. Each company completed the Value for Women Gender and Business Self-Assessment Survey, which gathers key data on the business’s current progress and opportunities for improvement. This enables us to identify untapped opportunities.
Among other insights, this is what we found:
The survey showed us that FMO’s clean energy portfolio performs slightly above average on various gender-forward indicators when compared to similar companies that have completed the survey; and commitments to increasing gender inclusion are a powerful starting point for deeply impactful strategies. Yet we can see that even for this portfolio, there is critical work to do to capture opportunities, from employing women and knowing how to address their women customers, to going public with their gender commitment by for instance aligning with the 2x Challenge Criteria .
Over the next 10 months, Value for Women will directly work with 3 businesses to integrate gender inclusion into their operations, which could include market research, product design, sales and after-sales, or human resources. There is great potential for improvement in each of these areas, and VfW will work to develop, pilot, and document strategies that are uniquely suited to each company’s context. Based on these pilot strategies, individual companies might expect to benefit from: improved sales; increased market reach, reputation, brand loyalty; greater employee engagement, satisfaction and retention; increased customer service efficiencies; and much more.
Ultimately these strategies are expected to contribute to an energy sector that is more inclusive of women — as innovators, decision-makers, employees, customers, and end-beneficiaries. In this way, FMO and Value for Women look forward to contributing to a more just transition, one clean energy company at a time. We will document our strategies, outcomes, learnings, and recommendations, and look forward to engaging the wider sector on next steps in early 2023.
Renée is a Portfolio Lead with Value for Women. She oversees, manages and delivers a global portfolio of innovative gender and business projects, working with impact investors, businesses, and entrepreneurial ecosystem actors. Renée brings to her work a background in financial and digital inclusion, innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystems, along with a passion for supporting women’s empowerment. She has previously worked with Cenfri as Project Lead for the i2i Facility in South Africa, as well as with Divitel in the Netherlands.
A seasoned international development professional, Sarah brings to Value for Women her prior experience successfully leading a broad range of initiatives for non-governmental organizations, the government of Rwanda and consultancies, with a focus on gender, equality and women’s rights, and economic empowerment. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Sussex, and a Master’s in Education, Gender and International Development from the University of London.
Shoshana is an Advisor – Knowledge Management & Communications at Value for Women. Shoshana oversees product conceptualization and technical writing for the organization's publications, ranging from research and evaluation reports to case studies and podcasts. Shoshana brings over 15 years of international development experience in both leadership and field positions across sectors, notably with the Inter-American Development Bank, Danone, Chemonics, TechnoServe and local non-governmental organizations.