LONDON -- Businesses that invest to help women and girls have surged in the past year, hitting a record high in the United States, according to organizers of an ethical investment summit.
Female entrepreneurs often face more obstacles than men, including a lack of access to finance, business networks, international markets and role models.
Women must also wait 217 years before they earn as much as men and win equal representation at work, the World Economic Forum said in 2017, revealing the widest gap in almost a decade.
But there are strong signs businesses are increasingly open to co-called "gender lens investing," where investments are expressly made to benefit women, such as working to close pay gaps, boosting female leaders, tackling domestic violence and promoting women's health.
The finding was released ahead of the first global summit aimed at boosting investments that help end gender inequality.
Suzanne Biegel, one of the organizers of the Gender-Smart Investing Summit in London, said the movement was at a "crucial tipping point".
"Momentum is on our side. There is a groundswell growing from investors as well as demand from those seeking capital and new partnerships, and the opportunities are becoming more present," Biegel said in a statement.
Over the past year, investments that specifically benefit women and girls surged by 85 percent in the United States to reach a record $2.4 billion, impact investment firm Veris Wealth Partners said in a report on Tuesday.
That was a 23-fold increase from $100 million four years ago, the firm said in a report released ahead of the summit.
"If we continue at this rate then we could see mass adoption within 5 years, moving from what has been seen as a niche to the mainstream. The opportunity is real, both for gender equality and for providing sound financial returns," Biegel said.
Three out of 10 US businesses are owned by women but they only receive $1 in investment for every $23 that goes to a male-led business, a US Senate committee found in 2014.
A Goldman Sachs-World Bank Group partnership to provide capital to women entrepreneurs in emerging markets reached $1 billion in investments in May.
Gender inequality in the workplace could cost the world more than $160 trillion in lost earnings, according to the World Bank. The figure compares the difference in lifetime income of everyone of working age and if women earned as much as men.