PE-backed Girls Who Invest aims to increase diversity in asset management

  • Ex-North Carolina Treasurer Janet Cowell named CEO
  • Girls Who Invest backed by several PE firms
  • Vista Equity a founding donor

Kristen Williams, global recruiting head at Blackstone Group, first found out about nonprofit Girls Who Invest two years ago after being introduced to Founder and Chair Seema Hingorani through the Blackstone Charitable Foundation.

Blackstone was already familiar with Hingorani, a former chief investment officer for New York City Retirement Systems.

Williams found Hingorani’s vision for GWI meshed with her own views as exemplified by Blackstone’s six-year-old Future Women’s Leaders Program, which gives female college sophomores an opportunity to learn about both Blackstone and a career in finance. The two-day program encompasses seminars and networking.

“I thought, ‘here’s an opportunity to partner with an organization that similarly goes out and looks for really smart, passionate women and gives them an overview and an education about our industry,’” Williams explained.

Blackstone became a donor to GWI, along with several other investment firms including General Atlantic, KKR, Oaktree, Partners Group, T. Rowe Price and Wellington Management. Vista Equity Partners is a founding sponsor of GWI.

Like Williams, Vista first learned about GWI through Hingorani.

“She told [Vista Chairman and CEO] Robert Smith of her vision and he committed to be their first founding sponsor on the spot, supporting GWI both monetarily and through internships,” a source familiar with the private equity firm said.

With hefty PE support, GWI offers summer educational programs designed to inspire young women to enter the industry. Its flagship initiative is a four-week, all-expenses-paid program at either the University of Pennsylvania or University of Notre Dame, followed by a six-week paid internship at a “leading asset management firm.”

GWI targets young women early in their college careers; this way, participants will still have time to pick up finance-focused coursework if they decide a career in asset management is for them.

The group recently named a new CEO, Janet Cowell, the former treasurer of North Carolina. Cowell said Girls Who Invest is being flooded with calls from firms such as JP Morgan that are interested in becoming more actively involved as a partner. “They are reaching out to us before we get to them,” added Cowell.

So far, it seems to be working. According to GWI, of the participants from the 2016 and 2017 programs, about 80 to 85 percent have stayed in finance, primarily in the buy-side/asset-management space but also in the sell side, which includes investment banking and equity research.

Among the alumni who will be graduating college in May 2018, all — except one, who needs U.S. visa sponsorship — have landed full-time jobs at firms such as Bank of America, PNC, Commonfund and Macquarie, a GWI spokesperson said.

None of the interns have yet joined full-time teams at Vista or Blackstone, as the GWI program is new and the women are still in college. But GWI is viewed as a good resource by both Blackstone and Vista.

“It certainly has been helpful,” said Williams. “It has opened a new pipeline for us and provided us with additional candidates that may not have been seen.”

GWI’s end goal is to have “30 percent of the world’s investable capital managed by women by 2030,” its website says. The organization also is hoping to expand to the West Coast and overseas in addition to launching online learning programs and investing clubs for high school students.

There are stumbling blocks. Cowell pointed to massive attrition among women early in their careers. Much of the fallout stems from women lacking the relationships to score the big deals; and a desire to have a healthy work/life balance, which a punitive 80-hour work week at a private equity firm might prevent.

Thanks to this #MeToo age, larger, high-profile firms are trying to address this shortfall, contended Cowell, while the smaller firms, which include venture capital, “have made less progress thinking about their culture and what it is that’s not encouraging women to stay.”

Action Item: Visit the Girls Who Invest website:

Photo of Janet Cowell courtesy of Girls Who Invest