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Is there inequality for women in finance?

Introduction

I’m the global head of SuperReturn, responsible for developing and implementing our events strategy across the world. I’ve worked in private equity and venture capital research/analysis/strategy since 2002, in a variety of roles across different organisations. I’ve been at a publisher (Incisive Media), consulting firm (IE Consulting), private equity firm (Coller Capital), financial services firm (EY, formerly called Ernst & Young) and a trade body (the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association). As such, I have amassed a wealth and depth of (mostly!) useful information on the asset class across the world.

Why are there so few women working in the private equity and venture industry?

That depends on what roles you look at within the industry. There are a lot of women in support functions and fewer in technical or business development-related roles. By technical roles, I mean investment professionals, for example, or accountants or lawyers serving the private equity industry. Having said that, there are some notable women leading private equity firms – these include Anne Glover of Amadeus Capital, Runa Alam of Development Partners International and Rudina Seseri of Glasswing Ventures, all of whom I have been privileged to meet.

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According to Level 20, there are only 5% of women in senior investment roles. Why do you think this is?

One reason is certainly the work-life balance – women like to take a more hands-on role in bringing up their children. Another, I think, is the type and amount of proactive support that companies, colleagues and managers provide women to help them move up the ranks. Thirdly, my observation is that many of the women I have met are a little less forceful or single-minded than their male counterparts, which may be one reason why their male colleagues get further quicker than they do (career-wise or money-wise).

Do you think there is a different work mentality between male and female colleagues?

I don’t think so, no. Women have the same aims, career ethic and ambitions as men, but we sometimes go about things differently. For example, communication styles can differ – I find women are more likely to put themselves or their ideas down, be self-effacing, or say things with less confidence, whereas the men (who may know less than women) can bluff their way through a conversation with amazing bravado!

Over the course of your career, have you seen a shift in the perception of women in finance?

"Most companies are becoming much more active in providing support to women to climb up the career ladder"

I have. Most companies are becoming much more active in providing support to women to climb up the career ladder and we are beginning to see more women at Partner level in private equity firms across the world. I also find that private equity and venture capital in emerging markets seems to have more female involvement (for example, looking at the attendees at our conferences), but this is a perception and I haven’t got any statistically significant numbers to back this up.

What advice would you give to women looking for a career in finance?

I was fortunate to be able to do post graduate degrees (an MSc and PhD), both of which required me to develop – and justify – ideas and points of view. It was great training for work-related conversations both with men and women alike! I would encourage all women to join debate clubs and other hobbies or courses that can develop their confidence in conversations. It’s also been helpful that I have been prepared to move jobs and companies when opportunities have presented themselves to me – some women are, perhaps, more risk-averse when it comes to moving. So another piece of advice for women – choose your managers and companies with care as it can make all the difference to your career and feelings of self-belief.

Is there inequality for women in the financial work place?

" I think women should be careful interpreting gender bias when it might be something else"

Just looking at the data provided on this topic by various organisations, there must be. However, although there are fewer women in finance, and definite reasons for this, I think women should be careful interpreting gender bias when it might be something else.  My advice for women is that if you are facing gender inequality (or think you are), stay confident, don’t focus on the problem or the person (otherwise you may start demonstrating behaviors that may not be in your best interests) and look for constructive solutions, whatever these might be.

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