RENEW Strategies

Gender Equality and Women in the Workforce Mini-Series: Blog 2

alt text
Laura Davis
| December 28, 2017

Blogging is not my favorite thing in the world, much less talking about topics to which I feel like I have not dedicated enough time to fully develop a compelling position. So with that as a caveat, I will own it. I do have something to say about my own journey as a female entrepreneur in the male dominated space of private equity. I sit at the intersection of a lot of spaces: private equity, economic development, impact investing, angel investing, Africa, and entrepreneurship. I’ve seen efforts that align with my sense of true north related to female economic empowerment and equality and also efforts I find infuriating, such as well-meaning but poorly branded development efforts that lump female and youth entrepreneurs together, for example. What the hell? As if I, a female, can’t have a world changing, scalable idea. Offense aside, let’s focus on the opportunity side of being a female entrepreneur and maximizing our unique strengths in the private equity space.

United States to Afghanistan to Ethiopia – I’ve learned so much about the role of women and economic empowerment within the context of these very diverse cultural situations. In the United States, we have a tendency to see the genders as equal and the same. In Afghanistan, it was, unfortunately, clear that the struggle is often a belief that the genders are different and unequal. Some females there encouraged me to flaunt my Western freedoms. But I had a job to do, so I decided to do my best to adopt the cultural norms. Here in Ethiopia, at least among the educated, it feels like the prevailing thought is more aligned with my own belief about gender: We are different and equal. That being said, I am not naïve enough to think that this would be my reality if I was a rural female farmer in Ethiopia. No matter the prevailing cultural norms, my advice is to respect the cultural context and choose your battles wisely.

“You don’t know what she’s going through.” – Once, as I was lamenting a female entrepreneur falling off our radar (discontinuing responding to emails and calls), someone here in Ethiopia warned that I had “no idea the circumstances that might be on the entrepreneur’s shoulders”, and that I should give her another chance. I think she was right. Here in Ethiopia, and frankly in most parts of the world, certain family obligations fall more completely on the shoulders of wives and daughters, and it is our duty to keep these cultural nuances in mind as we conduct business internationally. I still think about this encounter, and hope this plucky, gutsy young female entrepreneur comes back on my radar. I think she may have what it takes to be a world changer.

Focus on the advantages – It’s so easy as humans, no matter our gender, to dwell on our disadvantages. My own experience as a female entrepreneur has proven we provide certain advantages that men in this industry generally struggle with. For example, entrepreneurs initially tend to be more comfortable sharing about their businesses with me than some of my male counterparts. Another is that my “female intuition” is usually spot on when it comes to assessing a person, or situation, or investment opportunity. Us women just have that sixth sense, if you know what I mean. However, some days I can still get discouraged in the unique challenges I face as a woman, but when I can stop myself and persist through the challenges, the outcomes our powerful and rewarding. I plan to continue leveraging my voice for all it is worth. Regardless of gender, that’s what winners do!

In summary, finding a position and supporting efforts that support gender equality and female economic empowerment are great. But in my opinion, we all walk a fine line in developing efforts that bring dignity and enlarging the issues we are trying to overcome. I am not sure we have it quite right yet, but some of our current efforts at RENEW include:

  • Establishing a quarterly Women in Finance Roundtable in Ethiopia! Read about our first. I was so inspired by our guest, Berhane Demissie.
  • We are supporting 1,523 female jobs across our portfolio, which is 73% of the total.
  • Our first cohort of CFO100 consisted of 13 females, good for 54% of the group. We are aiming for similar numbers for our second group beginning in 2018.
  • We encourage our executives to pursue a diverse leadership team. Currently, 50% of our portfolio companies are partly owned by women.
  • As an impact investing firm, RENEW has a vested interest in embracing equality both in our investments, and internally. We run our business the same way we hope to see other companies run theirs: with a gender-diverse leadership team. Similarly, in our investments, we always value companies that support women and offer services that allow them to succeed in the workplace and in their private life.

    Hopefully we are magnifying the idea that men and women are different and equal. People around the world who don’t believe this are really missing out. Keep an eye out for more blogs in this series in the upcoming months.

    Other blogs in this series:

    To find out more about RENEW or the IAN, contact us at, follow us on Twitter @RENEWLLC or find us on Instagram @impactangelnetwork. Be sure to check out our upcoming events, including the upcoming Econ-Tourism Trip February 18-24, 2018.