Yin Force

Women’s hands, intelligence and talents can make this world a better place

Continent Virginia Tan

“Feminist optics” aka “gender lens” is a relatively new concept so it hasn’t made its way into any reference book yet. Nonetheless, progressive communities start using this still unusual tool more and more to address quite usual phenomena. The world is changing and women are to a great extent part and parcel of this process. Of this Virginia Tan, our columnist, founder of the “LeanIn China” movement and “She Loves Tech” International Startup Competition as well as chief partner of Teja Ventures Fund, is absolutely sure.

I believe the most pressing issue we are facing nowadays is gender inequali-ty. Women make up more than 50 % of the world’s population. This majority’s potential not being used to the max entails many negative effects worldwide such as lower GDP figures on the one hand and this great talent pool not being fully utilized on the other.

Statistics shows that countries with low gender equality causing gender discrimination and violence are more prone to instability. The first step to solving the problem is acknowledging its existence, which, I am sure, is already no secret to many. The next step is becoming fully aware of its real consequences i.e. how greatly it affects our societies, families and workplaces.

There are some very illuminating practical negative consequences really worth addressing for the problem to be solved. Here’s one. The appearance of the automobile airbag in the 1960s and ‘70s did not prevent many women and children from dying in car crashes while most men survived. The reason was the first airbags had been designed specifically for males.

Here’s another. I was quite surprised to learn that most medicines were actually made for and tested on males only. So in many cases they are less effective in treating the same diseases in females because, for example, heart attacks affect men and women quite differently. Besides, women’s health care has traditionally been underfunded as a minor “niche” market even though it caters for the majority of humankind. This undervalued vertical is a very good investment prospect worthy of much more attention.

Being in the know is of paramount importance. Once people understand the causes & effects of the problem they become motivated enough to change their attitudes and behaviour, be it individuals, companies or governments, to promote gender equality and help women advance to success in business and life. This way whole societies become more advanced too.

My motivation in the beginning was simple enough – to organize a useful event for female tech entrepreneurs, highlight their talented work and provide them with a good capital raising platform. Back then I could not expect “She Loves Tech” to become the world’s largest startup competition of women and technologies. I myself was a novice in the tech field and, feeling very much out of my depth, did my best to learn as much as possible. As to choosing which projects to invest in, first and foremost, I always consider whether the founders have profound enough domain expertise, their ability to build a team and their strategic advantages over their competitors. Last but not least, their vertical must also have a big enough market opportunity.

Frankly speaking, I do not consider myself really successful, definitely not by Chinese standards! Still, I must say I do not regret deciding to launch my “LeanIn China,” “She Loves Tech” and “Teja Ventures” projects even though at first it was definitely a leap of faith for me. My business decisions have been greatly influenced by Chinese truly entrepreneurial, risk-taking and can-do culture. If it hadn’t been for that, I don’t think, I would have had the courage to chase my dreams, especially, facing so much uncertainty and insecurity. I am sure, from a macroeconomic perspective, the way China has fostered a truly conducive environment for entrepreneurship and openness to innovations and new technologies is something the world can learn from.

I suppose I just was at the right place at the right time. When we were launching “LeanIn China”, there were very few women’s networks or organizations in the country. In the meantime, women’s consciousness was on the rise, and, with “WeChat” becoming really popular, China was experiencing a social media boom. We realized that in the current environment women lacked confidence, networks and role models. Such values as mutual support, mentorship and leadership were in great demand. So we espoused and publicized them through word of mouth and social media.

Now Chinese women have at their service a national network of communities holding a variety of events on leadership, professional challenges, wellness, etc. “LeanIn China,” too, runs a national programme on leadership for college women. It also publishes data from thousands of Chinese women working in different fields in an annual white paper called “Women, Work & Happiness.”

We formally recommend many women using our platform to go to business schools for further training. Many of our former community leaders, whom we have supported this way, are now at US top business schools, in investment banking, with the World Bank, the United Nations, etc. A lot of them have set up successful businesses.

There are different ways of interpreting gender lens investing. Some investors consider it in terms of diversity, i.e. the number of female founders, senior managers and company employees. In the case of Teja the concept is viewed in a broader sense. We focus on investing in four verticals: consumption, services, content and fintech. This, we believe, leverages women’s primarily demographic potential in the entire investment value chain whether women be consumers, online traffic providers, suppliers, vendors, resellers, mobile and contingent workforce, etc. Here are examples of such leveraging of women’s potential:

• Any business model or platform enabling women “to unlock” their economic potential, example contingent, flexible forms of labour saving time and labour thus increasing mobility;

• Any product or infrastructure enabling women to build financial or other assets, such as savings and insurance or providing better access to capital, land and other productive assets.

We are definitely not at war with men. We see females and males as partners, allies and companions. The Chinese call this gender unity “yin & yang.” However, I am all too aware of gender violence, discrimination and abuse still existing. I do know that in many parts of the world males are still in control of political power and economic assets. Nevertheless, before too long, we will definitely be seeing the greatest transition of wealth ever to the next generation, mostly into women’s hands. That’s why it is so important for women to lean in and reach the top. Women must get better access to economic assets and power in order to influence the way we live, work and decisions we make. With the power dynamics shifting, I hope, yin & yang will be able to relate to and interact with each other in a fairer and more balanced way. In the meantime, my message to each and every woman on earth is simple. Believe in yourself even when no one else does! Women’s hands, intelligence and talents can make this world a better place!