Shifting the balance within private equity and venture capital

On Tuesday 19th May 2015, women and men from the world of Private Equity (PE) gathered at the Ham Yard Hotel for BVCA’s annual Women in Private Equity Forum, in order to tackle the issue of female under-representation within the industry. PE is the industry with the lowest rate of female representation of senior roles in Europe. Improvement has been made in the last year from 9.7% to 12.4% but we are far from achieving genuine progress. In order to do so, contribution from both men and women is essential.

Top causes preventing women from entering PE

One point that was made clear through panel discussions was that the under-representation of women in PE starts at the application stage with less women applying for roles. PE is seen as an aggressive and extremely competitive industry. This does not mean that women are not competitive enough but competitiveness and ambition are portrayed in different ways in each gender and perhaps the PE industry is failing to recognise this.

Another area that unsurprisingly stimulated discussion was maternity/paternity leave. Some of the views on maternity leave in PE could also prevent women from entering. Due to the competitive and fast paced nature of the industry, some feel that when returning from maternity leave it is unfair to expect to return at the same level role. On the other hand, men feel like they are looked down on for taking leave.

How to help more women enter and succeed in the PE industry

It was suggested at the Forum that a way of tackling this issue is by looking at how other industries are doing it. Looking at one of the beauty and cosmetics industry leaders, MAC, it is obvious that they have created and promoted a very open philosophy throughout the organisation, welcoming diversity which is the opposite of PE where a closed society approach seems to be taken.

Panel discussions then shifted towards ways of supporting women to achieve their goals, once in the industry. For more women to reach senior roles, networking, education and mentoring opportunities need to be created along with re-integration programmes into business after maternity/paternity leave. In the aim of achieving this, a Women in Private Equity Initiative fuelled by twelve women in Private Equity has been created.

Being successful in this industry is not easy but it is certainly not impossible. Dale Murray represents a great success story. Murray is a Non-Executive Director and business angel investor in early-stage entrepreneurial businesses. Prior to being an investor, she was a successful entrepreneur in the mobile telecoms sector. Her journey to the top was challenging but she did not blame her gender for her struggles although she felt that it was easier for men to succeed in PE.

Moving forward

It is encouraging to see PE firms wanting to shift the balance. Wol Kolade, Managing Partner of Living Bridge, highlighted their main focus when recruiting is finding the best candidate.

It will not be a paradigm shift overnight and some PE houses will be more willing to help than others. As Sofia Ulver, PhD Associate Professor and Researcher at Lund University, cleverly stated it was not long ago that powerful women were undermined for using handbags when attending meetings. In the same manner we can overcome challenges in the PE industry. As mentioned at the forum, we can start by addressing the issue one step at a time, such as “Why do deals have to close in the middle of the night?”.

Image: Courtesy of Karim Merie – Mulme Ltd

Lisa Morgan, Director