Industry hiring more women, but change happening slowly

  • PE still toxic environment for women: panelists
  • Firms promote more from within
  • Basis for judging women’s success must change

LPs and GPs are more conscious of hiring, retaining and promoting women, but it’s still a toxic environment for females in private equity.

That was one of the takeaways from a panel discussion during the Emerging Manager Connect East 2017 conference at the Harvard Club in Manhattan on July 26. The conference was put on by Buyouts and VCJ publisher Buyouts Insider.

A lot of women in PE don’t see clear career paths for themselves or any chance to move up to senior roles. “But some firms are starting to intentionally put a line in the sand, saying they are no longer hiring externally but promoting within,” noted Carol Schleif, deputy chief investment officer at the wealth-management firm Abbot Downing. Schleif was speaking on a panel called “Retaining Existing Female Talent in PE.”

Similarly, panelist Susan Hawkins, a partner at BSG Team Ventures, noted a shift on the portfolio side, with more executive hires of women, especially in consumer-oriented businesses and particularly with CFOs.

Schleif said that although more women in PE may be considered for promotion from within, women still face a tough go once they move up, since in senior roles they are expected to act more like their male counterparts.

“If you don’t know who won the football game on Sunday, you can’t be part of the collegial discussion in the office on Monday,” said panelist Hilary Gosher, managing director of Insight Venture Partners.

There are way too many sports analogies in the workplace, added Schleif, who said she tells people that for every sports analogy she hears, she’s going to “say a labor-and-delivery analogy. And that gets the point across.”

The discussion about women in the broad investment community ramped up in recent weeks as five men stepped down, been asked to resign or been accused of misconduct, as revelations of sexual harassment swirl through the venture community.

  • In late June, six women spoke to the The Information about stories of sexual harassment involving Justin Caldbeck, co-founder of Binary Capital. He then quit the firm.
  • Dave McClure, under pressure for alleged inappropriate behavior toward women, resigned in early July from 500 Startups, the unorthodox firm and accelerator he co-founded seven years ago.
  • The New York Times article that called out McClure also spoke with entrepreneur Susan Wu, who said Chris Sacca of Lowercase
    Capital inappropriately touched her. Prior to the Times article, Sacca, who previously announced he is retiring from venture capital, issued an apology.
  • Ignition Partners said it forced the resignation of Frank Artale after receiving a complaint of misconduct. The firm on its website said it learned of the complaint against Artale, a managing partner, on July 5 from a third party who requested anonymity.
  • AngelList employee Lee Jacobs was put on an indefinite paid leave of absence as an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct takes place. Jacobs in a statement through an intermediary denied the incident.

“Change in the industry is trending in the right direction, and I’m hearing more firms talk about hiring women as a groundswell of support rises in the wake of recent events,” Gosher said. “But if you look at the situation at Uber or the VCs in Silicon Valley, it’s still a toxic environment for women.”

The panel on retaining women in PE, moderated by Alexandra Mores, co-founder and managing partner of Atlantix Partners, said the industry needs to change how women are judged. Often, they said, women investors are judged by the number of deals they do, rather than their performances. “We need to change that yardstick and not just judge on the number of deals,” Gosher said.

Hawkins added that the social construct of judging women in business needs to change, too, so more women gain the opportunity to become rainmakers, the people who bring in new business based on their reputation.

“This [women in business] is a hot topic,” Mores said. “There’s a lot more to talk about than what we can put into a 30-minute panel discussion.”

Action Item: Alex Mores’s bio:

The panelists for “Retaining Existing Female Talent in PE” at Buyouts Insider’s Emerging Manager Connect East 2017 conference at the Harvard Club in Manhattan on July 26. Photo by Buyouts Staff.