Women Equity 50 2020



The Women Equity Program: the first impact investing scheme dedicated to women-led SMEs

The Women Equity Program is the first initiative in Europe dedicated to providing financial and operational support to women-led growth SMEs, and to promoting their success models, so as to contribute to a better gender balance in business leadership for a more sustainable growth in Europe.

The program benefits from substantial institutional recognition, including that of the General Assembly of the European Council (resolution 55 – March 2011).



Despite strong fundamentals (an employment rate of 80% for women between 25 and 49, and a high level of education – 60% of masters degrees held by women) France was ranked 67th worldwide in 2013 (down from 53rd in 2008) for female contribution to the economy, according to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Report. This situation, indicative of economic underperformance, social injustice and inequality, is detrimental to sustainable economic development.

Most solutions to this inequality have centered on diversity in top management and boards at large corporations. However, SMEs, as principal contributors to growth and economic prosperity, are a key issue, given that a minority of SMEs is run by women.  Moreover, today 52% of French SMEs, which employ two thirds of workers, have no women in their executive staff (compared to a world average of 34%).

Finally, research confirms that for those companies led by women, access to private equity financing is very limited. As an illustration, the proportion of private equity backed women-led companies is significantly inferior to the proportion of women led companies in the economy: they represented less than 4% of the PE small and mid market (5<EV<75 M €) transactions in 2013.

This absence of women SMEs in private equity is not due to a lack of attractiveness, given the studies that have shown the consistent higher performance of these businesses that have developed under multiple constraints.  Library House – Dow Jones published the results of research showing that out of 600 Private Equity backed European companies, those led by women demonstrated higher capital efficiency, requiring 35% less capital to generate 12% more revenues. 

In addition, analyses by Women Equity for Growth of 40,000 French SMEs with revenues of more than 4 M € have shown that the 5,000 companies strictly led by women (Chairmen and CEOs) were more resilient during the crisis.  A majority of them even maintained growth. Moreover, their revenues and their profitability declined less than their sector competitors.  

Currently in France, there are more than 5,000 women led SMEs with over €4 million in sales and less than 250 employees.  Even if these companies remain in the minority, they constitute a substantial investment universe, demonstrating relative higher performance in terms of growth, profitability, and job creation, with regards to the invested capital. This higher performance is essentially the result of the harder constraints they face as managers, and notably the drastic social selection process they have endured before and during the development of their companies. In general, these companies and their management suffer from low visibility, which does not contribute to change in the prevailing gendered entrepreneurial leadership model. This lack of an alternative leadership model is known to be one of the primary explanations for the limited evolution of gender roles in the French economy, and for the reported decrease in women’s contribution to economic prosperity.  A rebalance of this situation has been shown to be one of the main growth factors in European economies, and an essential contributor to the societal equilibrium, that conditions a more sustainable growth.  Supporting companies that help promote a more gender balanced management model is a financial opportunity as well as a responsible and socially useful investment.


Women Equity Partners: the first merchant bank dedicated to women-led SMEs in Europe

Women Equity Partners (WEP) is the first merchant banking boutique focusing on women-led growth companies in Europe. WEP combines corporate advisory and principal investment practices dedicated to building value for the companies we support. WEP is operating under the umbrella of the Women Equity Program.


Women Equity for Growth : a non for profit organization in charge of the social impact of the Women Equity Program

Women Equity for Growth is following a three pronged goal: first, by contributing to a better knowledge of the specificities of w-led companies and their impact on the economy through the wide dissemination of proprietary research and academic work on the subject ; secondly by increasing visibility of high performing growth companies and their female CEOs and managers, with the goal of helping diversified leadership “role models” to emerge ; finally by animating communities of women executives to facilitate experience sharing, foster sound relationships and develop business networks.


Women Equity Partners

We bring strategic support and financing to growth companies
As a long term committed partner, we support our sponsored companies by providing access to capital for their development plans, leveraging engaged business networks, and bringing visibility to the companies we sponsor. Our experience in backing and financing growth SMEs assures that we are shrewd partners to assist management in the definition of strategic and operational plans, in the deployment of new businesses, the implementation of acquisition strategies, the access to public equity capital markets, or in the reorganization of their capital and the transmission of their companies. We benefit from an extensive international network of investors and access to a wide scope of sources of capital, from institutional investors, traditional private equity and venture capital investors, corporate and sovereign funds, to family offices and high net worth individuals. In a number of circumstances, we can invest our own capital along the management teams we back.

We sponsor women-led European SMEs with attractive growth outlooks in diverse sectors
These companies must be women led or be developing gender balance in key leadership positions. We also consider companies working to implement a proactive gender policy and gender balance across fields. We focus on development stage companies with revenue between €5m and €100m and attractive growth outlooks. We pay particular attention to the relevance of their strategy, the strength of their positioning in the market, the ambition and the quality of their management.


Women Equity for Growth

Building knowledge
Research is overseen by an international Scientific Committee, comprising leading academics from 12 European and US universities, providing an advanced knowledge of the universe of women led SMEs and an objective comprehension of gender topics in the economic sector. The Women Equity program aims to broadly document the performance and best practices of companies in its universe, and to foster reflection on the principles of corporate governance and social policies. Among its major accomplishments:
- Documenting annually the higher performance of women led French SMEs, through the development of the Women Equity Index. The index gathers financial data from 40,000 companies which have at least three years of results and revenues of at least €4m. The results have systematically shown that the women led businesses present a higher revenue growth and profitability than the men led businesses, as well as a stronger resilience in economic upheavals,- - Documenting the gender gap in Private Equity, through the publication of an annual barometer analysing the number of deals on w-led firms, in partnership with CFnews. The barometer shows differing access to capital depending on the gender of the company’s leader,
- Documenting best practices in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), with a special focus on gender balance in the workplace,
- Publishing the first awards for women led growth companies in France, which assembles annually the 50 best performing companies, in partnership with BNP Paribas,
- Analysis of the CSR of these aforementioned companies, of which the best is awarded a prize under the aegis of an acclaimed leading figure in CSR.

Sponsoring leaders
Women Equity’s activities evoke a keen interest in the media and with public and community decision makers, as well as with the general public. This exposure contributes to positive change in gendered notions of social roles. In addition, from the focus on the successful careers of female leaders emerges the creation of female entrepreneurial “role models”, which are recognized as a decisive factor in societal evolution. The program possesses numerous means for communicating and sharing its achievements: more than 600 thematic articles published on www.women-equity.org, a newsletter sent to more than 4,000 subscribers, a Twitter account, a LinkedIn group, etc. The Women Equity program is also an operating partner in La Tribune Women’s Awards, which spotlights the careers of female CEOs and upper level managers.

Hosting dialogue
Women Equity for Growth organizes quarterly conferences to bring together CEOs, upper management, consultants, investors, and bankers to share their experiences with topics that interest growth companies. Previous forums have addressed “SME: development through build-up transactions”, “What levers of motivation lead to better employee performance ?”, “French SMEs in the current economic climate” , “SME: financing growth through the stock market”, and other related subjects. A similarly themed newsletter, which assembles profiles of leaders and portions of the experts’ discussions, is sent out after these meetings to 800 members of the Club Women Equity.




The Women Equity Program: the first impact investing scheme dedicated to women-led SMEs


Reinforce companies’ performances
Encourage equal access to economic opportunities
Enable sustainable growth


The Women Equity Program is implemented by Women Equity for Growth, a not for profit organization dedicated to the development of a favorable economic ecosystem for female CEOs and managers of SMEs in Europe in cooperation with Women Equity Partners, a merchant banking boutique focusing on women-led growth companies in Europe


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