Editor’s Letter: Private equity and sexual harassment: suffering in silence

I’ll never forget the day I found out one of my female relatives was sexually harassed as a young woman just starting out in her career.

She was working in an office and one of the senior executives cornered her in an elevator and subjected her to an elevator ride from hell. At the time, she said that in the ’70s and ’80s women took things like that and brushed them off. Easier to forget about it and move forward.

But she still remembered the incident, vividly, 30-some years later. She never complained to her bosses, never made an issue of it at work, but she had no trouble conjuring the image of the guy: a tall man with red hair who was married.

I imagine my female relative held this in for many years, not talking about it, even though it was always there, not too far from the surface. Maybe time has dulled the edges, but there was obviously something raw about the experience that she could summon its intensity at will and talk about it like it was last week.

It’s why the #metoo movement has been so long overdue and why this national purging of predatory men of power is such a healing thing for this country and this culture.

At Buyouts, our thesis is that this industry is not immune from this type of bad behavior. It’s simply still locked behind closed doors and in legal files. We know this stuff goes on, we’ve talked to enough women in the industry who have told us so, even if they won’t use their names.

We’ve heard anecdotes about all sorts of bad behavior, but nothing reportable, nothing on the record. We understand the reluctance to come forward, to put your name out there attached to a charge that may or may not lead to justice, but very well may lead to a detour in your career trajectory.

There it is — the same thing my female relative said was true 30 years ago remains true today. Sure, you can look for justice, try to right a wrong, but at what cost? It’s a price most people are not willing to pay. To be honest, I don’t know if would. And so you brush it off, keep moving forward, waiting for the next time some jerk with an inflated sense of privilege gets on the elevator with you.

In our cover package in this edition of Buyouts, we talk about what many people in the industry feel is a gradual shift on this issue, one that will be significant only if it is led by LPs.

Like everything in this industry, LPs have the ability to lead the way. They can close their wallets, and when that happens, things must change. They can demand more information, make unveiling information about sexual harassers mandatory as part of routine fund due diligence. And it’s a conversation we know some LPs are having.

I hope it continues and grows. We’re here to help. Tell us your stories, your efforts at effecting this change. We’ll listen, whether you want to use your name or not.

Private Equity Editor Chris Witkowsky reflects at home. Photo by Wendy Witkowsky