Inspire Inclusion #IWD2024

European Investment Fund (EIF)
5 min readMar 8, 2024

Diversity is one of those words that means different things to different people. But one thing that most agree on whenever we say ‘diversity’ is its association with the word ‘inclusion’.

Diversity and inclusion seemingly go hand in hand. Why? Because people with different backgrounds or different characteristics tend to bring a variety of different perspectives to any table. That adds value.

And if you look out of the window onto a fragile European economy, an energy crisis, climate change, environmental sustainability in question and unforgiving global economic competition, that sort of added value could come in quite handy. Put otherwise, we need all hands on deck.

We cannot afford to have parts of the population alienated from one or another industry. And in the case of the financial sector, we have been witnessing a historical marginalisation of women.

If we are to tackle the multitude of challenges before us head on, we are going to have to draw on the expertise and brainpower of our human capital. All of it. (Probably artificial intelligence too)

This is, of course, nothing new. What’s new is the determination and the pace of change. Looking back over the EIF’s 30-year history and indeed the entire EIB Group, we have been working on inclusive finance for some time now, in particular focussing on microfinance and social entrepreneurship for example, through instruments that serve to include otherwise excluded segments of the business world in our financing initiatives.

The EIF’s financing history for diversity and inclusion

The European Commission’s EPMF programme first, and then the EaSI programme, both aimed at improving access to finance for micro-entrepreneurs and social businesses. Looking at their more than 240,000-strong portfolio of loans, it’s interesting to note that, for about 80% of those businesses, this was their first loan. At the same time, 24% of these loans went to non-EU nationals while 30% went to female entrepreneurs. So we have been making inclusive dents in the financial landscape for a while. Encouraging, but not enough.

Today, the Commission’s new InvestEU programme continues to push the diversity and inclusion agenda, through more micro-loans, through investments in social impact and social businesses, and also through a series of gender criteria applied to its equity investments. And while the initial target was set at 25%, we are delighted that by 2023 year-end, 38% of our InvestEU equity investments already met the gender criteria.

We’re now expanding these targets across all our equity activity. Similar criteria have also been built-into a dedicated Gender Smart Equity Investment Programme (GESIP) that we have developed with like-minded National Promotional Institutions, ensuring that future programmes will move in the same direction. But that’s still not enough.

Our partnerships and charters for diversity

Overall, we are seeing a growing number of organisations signing up to charters and collaboration tools that pursue similar goals like the EIB’s Women Climate Leaders Network and the Women in Finance Charter of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange, and certifications like EDGE help to set the bar high. These engagements oblige us to do more and also send the right signals. And they drive transparency, which is key when addressing a topic like this.

Gender balance: in our ecosystem and at the EIF

In that sense, we are also seeing more research on the topic, with the lens locked on gender balance, closely monitoring developments. Pitchbook recently reported, for example, that female-founded teams with at least one female co-founder are increasing their share of the overall funding pot: in 2023, they represented 20.5% of the total deal value in Europe, a 5% increase on 2022, and a very positive development. But, much like every other data point in this article, better, but not good enough. Here’s another: If we look at Europe’s VC firms with over €50m in assets under management, just 15% of the decision-makers in these firms are female.

In my own organisation, we’ve been making good progress at the level of our own human resources last year, with the number of women in middle management positions doubling to 38% on the back of an extensive internal reorganisation. This comes on top of good gender balance in our governing bodies, ensuring diversity throughout our decision-making processes. Once again, good progress, but not good enough.

Female representation: where next

Now, while the numbers are looking better, and the momentum is picking up, it needs to be clear to us that this is not just about numbers. Focussing too much on numbers and using quotas too extensively could jeopardise these efforts altogether. It’s not about ‘the token dodo’. It’s not about thrusting a woman into a decision-making position just to make up the numbers. That discredits her as much as the process.

What’s more important is making sure that the fundamentals are there. We have always maintained, for example, in our equity investments, that we won’t be making investments in female-led teams on the basis of that characteristic alone, but will always prioritise principles of sound financial management and a solid investment proposition.

As a financial institution, our goal in terms of diversity and inclusion is to move towards a more pluralistic environment with a more balanced sourcing of opinions, and most notably, that means better gender balance.

And while the numbers today are important (also in terms of signalling and inspiring others), making sure that the fundamentals are there entails looking at the long trajectory from education to developing skills and eventually professional growth. This means urging more women and girls into STEM subjects to better prepare them for the world of finance. It means executive programmes and vocational training modules, but it can also mean mentorship programmes that will open doors, empower and motivate. We’re looking at all these ideas more carefully at the moment, hoping to put something more concrete together soon.

As I have said, the momentum is building, but it’s not enough. With one foot firmly on the accelerator, it’s important that we take a bold, holistic approach to gender balance, diversity and inclusion. As the EIF has matured over 30 years, so have our challenges. And we need to be able to rely on the entire spectrum of Europe’s human capital to tackle them effectively.

Marjut Falkstedt, EIF Chief Executive



European Investment Fund (EIF)

Europe's leading provider of risk financing for SMEs. Cornerstone investor in VC and PE funds. Making debt financing more affordable for entrepreneurs. @EIF_EU