These women leaders show that balance is better, part one

Part of Accion’s annual series highlighting women working in financial inclusion

According to TechCrunch, fewer than 1 in 10 people making investment decisions at venture capital firms are women, and three-quarters of these firms have zero female investors. Furthermore, there were only 24 companies with female chief executives among the Fortune 500 in 2018. There’s a long way to go before we reach gender parity in most industries and societies throughout the world, but it’s crucial that we continue to champion women because, as the slogan for International Women’s Day 2019 points out, balance is better.

Having diverse leadership helps companies increase their understanding of their customers, so they can perform better financially. For businesses focused on social good, this can also translate to making a greater impact. When it comes to financial inclusion, we need women in power as we work to overcome the persistent gender gap in access to financial services and ensure that all women have useful financial tools that can help them gain independence and seize more opportunities.

As we strive to close this gap and build an inclusive financial system, we’re proud to have a diverse team leading the charge. Three in five people who work at Accion are women, and at Accion Venture Lab, more than half of all full-time staff are women.

We’re highlighting some of these leaders who are working to build a more inclusive world in our annual International Women’s Day blog series on the women of Accion and our partners. Check out this additional article to learn about more inspiring women.

Here are a few of the leaders we’re proud to work with:

Rose Goslinga, Co-founder and Managing Director, Pula

Rose and the Pula team helping with demos as farmers test PINs in Zambia

As soon as Rose Goslinga learned about the burgeoning field of microinsurance in 2008, she knew she wanted in. “There were opportunities for young people like me to make a real difference,” she recalls. “That excited me, and I don’t think I ever looked back.” She co-founded Pula to bring agricultural insurance to farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and India who needed this promise of resilience. In her work leading Pula, she’s seen the gender gap in action. “Women are even less likely to have insurance than a bank account, even though they are likely to be the ones picking up the pieces when disaster strikes.” Reaching underserved women often takes an extra effort, particularly if they’ve never had insurance before, but it’s crucial as an inclusive company to have a plan in place. “Being aware of how to reach out to women is the first step,” says Rose.

Pula thrives by bringing together a diverse and committed team to serve their customers. “To solve problems that haven’t been solved so far you need a diversity of opinions,” says Rose. “I have personally found that you only get diversity of opinions if you have a diversity of backgrounds — that includes social background and gender.” Despite having a strong team at her side and a rousing mission, leading a startup and making an impact isn’t always easy. “Having a real lasting impact requires grit and commitment,” says Rose. She advises her fellow women entrepreneurs to “savor the days where you can celebrate, store them in your mind to charge your mental battery.” And never underestimate the importance of a solid support network. “As women, we have to combine our responsibilities at home with those at the office. That is tough and only possible if you have someone who can support you.”

Gina Harman, U.S. Network, Accion

Gina Harman“Diversity isn’t a nice to have — it’s a must-have to remain relevant in today’s economy,” says Gina Harman. She’s seen the importance of diversity in businesses in her role as CEO, U.S. Network at Accion. Born and raised in New York City, Gina became interested in mission-based financial services after seeing how September 11 devastated the small business community. She first joined Accion a board member and later CEO of Accion’s lending organization based in New York, and she later helped found Accion’s U.S. Network office, which invests in innovation, technology and information sharing for the benefit of Accion’s network of U.S. lending organizations. “Don’t be afraid to enter a new field or pursue a new passion,” she says. “There will be a learning curve, no matter how many years you’ve been in your career, but in the end the challenge is usually worth it.” She also urges anyone who wants to make an impact to “surround yourself with people whose strengths are different than yours. This will ensure that you — and your organization — can make the greatest impact.”

For Accion in the U.S., making the greatest impact means bringing financial help to entrepreneurs who have long been underserved — and undervalued. “The bottom line is that women and entrepreneurs of color are good investments, and mainstream financial institutions need to do a better job of recognizing that potential,” says Gina. “Between 2007 and 2012, women-owned businesses created 1.2 million more jobs in the U.S. than male-owned firms, and more than 70 percent of new jobs were created by non-white business owners. Accion’s own lending data tells us that women often have better repayment rates than men, even if they started with lower credit scores. Women also comprise the majority of entrepreneurs who use Accion’s online business education resources, so we know that they are actively working to grow professionally and improve their businesses.”

Paarul Dudeja, Director of Asia Investments, Venture Lab, Accion

Paarul Dudeja“Look for problems that challenge you, excite you, and then, do not be afraid to take the first step,” says Paarul Dudeja. She followed her own advice into a career in impact investing, and today she’s the Director of Asia Investments for Accion Venture Lab. “At Accion, through our investments in innovative startups, we are able to reach those customers who are either completely disenfranchised from the formal financial system or are underserved by these traditional systems.”

Among those disenfranchised, there’s a disproportionate number of women, but Paarul believes we can tackle this challenge. “Closing the financial inclusion gender gap comes down to democratization of financial services and equal opportunity.” She sees hope in the innovative startups that she works with — smartphones and other technology are breaking down barriers to access, and smart use of data, such as underwriting algorithms, can enable gender-blind credit decisions.

Working with so many startups, Paarul also sees what it takes to build a strong business, and diversity is a significant part of that. “As a dynamic company, you want to understand your customers the best you can and challenge the status quo. I can’t think of a better to way to do that than by building teams that represent the real world and bring in diverse views,” she says. “The sex ratio of male to female global population is almost 50 percent, so why should an organization’s makeup be any different?”

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