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Today, we’re diving into the inspiring work of The Forum, a trailblazing organization dedicated to accelerating financial inclusion for women entrepreneurs. Shannon sits down with our guest, Gretchen Ferguson, who leads the AFIA DEI Index at The Forum, to discuss the key findings from this index. 


Bridging the Funding Gap

Women entrepreneurs start and operate businesses with 53% less financial capital than men, limiting their growth opportunities. Accessing funding is especially challenging for racialized, immigrant, and gender-diverse small business owners.


Gretchen Ferguson, passionate about inclusive entrepreneurship, leads the AFIA DEI Index, a groundbreaking initiative by The Forum. The Forum, with over 21 years of experience, supports 14,000+ women, transwomen, and non-binary entrepreneurs, fostering a vibrant community.


Access to financial capital just comes up constantly in all the conversations that we’re having in our community. It’s one of those key issues brought up for 21 years, 14,000 entrepreneurs. Our role, is we can be a bridge between women, including trans and non-binary individuals, and some of the funders.” – Gretchen Ferguson


Introducing AFIA DEI Index

AFIA DEI Index stands for Accelerating Financial Inclusion and Access to business capital for women entrepreneurs in all their diversity. It focuses on engaging funders, including financial institutions, lenders, investors, and equity firms, to make funding more accessible to diverse women entrepreneurs.


Addressing Biases and Challenges

Gender biases persist in assessing entrepreneurial potential, affecting loan approvals and terms. Lesbians, BIPOC women, and LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs face significant disparities in funding. Racial discrimination, inequities in credit requirements, and unfriendly funding experiences add to the challenges.


AFIA DEI Index tackles biases, discrimination, and inequities in funding processes. It guides funders to examine their policies, practices, and customer interactions. By fostering awareness and inclusivity, AFIA DEI Index empowers women entrepreneurs and fosters a more equitable financing landscape.


There are many challenges faced by women entrepreneurs, specifically the funding gap that persists, especially among traditionally underrepresented groups. Despite the various programs and initiatives, the funding landscape remains a complex terrain for many. Gretchen outlines the pivotal role The Forum plays as a bridge between women entrepreneurs and financial institutions, advocating for change and fostering dialogue.


The Forum’s Leadership Role

Gretchen sheds light on why The Forum, a leading organization in the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, took on the mantle of spearheading the AFIA DEI Index. Access to financial capital emerged as a recurring theme in their conversations with entrepreneurs. Recognizing their unique position within the ecosystem, The Forum decided to engage directly with funders, acting as a conduit between entrepreneurs and financial institutions. This proactive approach allowed them to bring a fresh perspective to the table, fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders.


The Importance of Convening the Ecosystem

Gretchen emphasizes the significance of convening various actors within the financial sector, including national banks, women’s entrepreneurship organizations, and diversity, equity, and inclusion experts. Despite the inherent challenges of bringing competitors together, the collaborative effort proved invaluable. The Forum facilitated a platform for open dialogue, encouraging participants to share their perspectives and listen to one another, fostering understanding and collaboration.


Navigating Challenges

The conversation delves into the unexpected hurdles encountered during the initiative. Privacy legislation, limiting the collection and sharing of crucial data, emerged as a significant challenge. Financial institutions faced constraints in gathering essential information, hindering efforts to track progress transparently. Additionally, legislative restrictions prevented institutions from collaborating effectively to address systemic barriers. Gretchen highlights the need for policymakers to strike a balance between consumer protection and addressing social equity issues, urging a reevaluation of existing legislation.


Feedback and Impact

Gretchen shares the feedback received from women entrepreneurs and the financial community. Women entrepreneurs expressed immense gratitude for the initiative, recognizing the tangible steps taken to address their challenges. The financial community, including major institutions and developmental lenders, embraced the AFIA DEI Index, acknowledging its value in enhancing their practices. Despite initial challenges, The Forum celebrated the successful participation of three large financial institutions, setting the stage for further engagement and growth.


Getting Involved

As the conversation draws to a close, Gretchen invites listeners to explore the AFIA DEI Index further. Interested individuals, especially those working within financial institutions, are encouraged to visit the initiative’s website ( for informative resources, videos, and a contact form to express their interest. 


Join us in celebrating the transformative impact of AFIA DEI Index and The Forum in leveling the playing field for women entrepreneurs. Together, we’re breaking down barriers, one opportunity at a time.

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