That’s exactly what happened to Lauren Leichtman, co-founder and CEO of Levine Leichtman Capital Partners, the Beverly Hills, Calif.-based private equity shop. To be sure, the incident occurred years ago. But, based on our interviews with women at the upper echelons of the industry, it is not atypical of the dismissiveness, if not outright discrimination, that they faced, typically early on in their careers.
Just why women are such a rare commodity in this industry isn’t entirely clear, but that they are rare is undeniable, especially at the partner level. Based on a sampling of 10 private equity firms chosen at random, only about 10 percent of the investment professionals in the buyout industry are women, a figure that is far lower than that in the workforce at large.
The good news for women is that it’s never been a better time to break into the asset class. Conferences like the Women’s Alternative Investment Summit are making it easier to find mentors, to learn the trade, and to build networks. Firms like the The Carlyle Group, which says 12 percent of its managing directors are women, seem intent on bringing more women into the firm and grooming them for executive positions. And more than one of the women interviewed to for this article said that their gender helps them stand out and make an impact.
Buyouts recently profiled five of the most powerful women in private equity, to show how they got there, and how they plan to stay at the top of their games. Below are snippets of the profiles, presented in alphabetical order. To read the full story, which includes an extensive table of other women rising in private equity, go here
Horbach began her career in private equity as the sixth investment professional hired at Forstmann Little & Co. in 1987, which she joined after earning an MBA from Stanford University. Before Stanford, she had been an analyst at Morgan Stanley. “I was very intrigued because I’d worked in M&A and thought it would be much more interesting to be on the principal side,” she told Buyouts.
Today she leads the consumer and retail group at Carlyle Group, which she launched in 2005; the group has nine investment professionals and has completed five investments. Horbach’s advice to women interested in private equity is to choose a firm devoted to developing and maintain a diverse pool of talent. “I wouldn’t be discouraged by what you see,” she said. “The world is increasingly diverse and global, and any firm that doesn’t keep up with that will not be as competitive.”