Today is International Women’s Day and for the event Buyouts this week published its annual “Women in PE”. Among the 10 women private equity professionals featured in our 2021 line-up is Michelle Lung, a senior principal with Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. Lung told Buyouts she appreciates PE for its “highly creative, intellectually curious and talented individuals,” but she also sees the industry as one of the most demanding “when it comes to achieving work-life balance.”
This theme was taken up in an accompanying story by Chris Witkowsky: “Private equity has a stunning lack of women deal leaders”. Featured in the piece was Kathleen Taylor (pictured above), the former CEO of Four Seasons Hotels and since 2019 chair of Canadian long-term PE firm Altas Partners. Asked by Witkowsky what her hardest career decision was, Taylor said it was when she and her husband decided how they were going to raise a young family.
Taylor said this challenge was ultimately overcome by making “the choices that were right for our family and our careers.” Taylor was lucky, Witkowsky writes, because she worked for a company that had a progressive attitude toward work-life balance. This is not the case for many women in the business and financial worlds – above all in private equity, especially when it comes to women deal-makers.
Women make up 9.9% of partners in the PE industry and 6.4% of managing partners, according to Preqin’s 2020 Women in Alternatives report, Witkowsky notes. Women make up 19.7% of all PE employees, which has grown from 18.8% in 2017.
One glaring gap that still exists in private equity, Witkowsky writes, is at the deal partner level, including on investment committees. It is here where there is a dearth of female voices. Even the biggest firms, which have led the way in improving their processes for more inclusive recruiting, continue to have senior deal leadership dominated by men.
Among the few examples of women at the deal partner level are founders of PE firms. This describes Lisa Melchior, founder and managing partner of Canadian tech PE firm Vertu Capital, who was also interviewed by Witkowsky. The experience of Melchior, a former OMERS Private Equity executive, was a whirlwind during the years when she was having children and raising a family and maintaining a high-flying career of frequent global travel and long hours.
The life of a private equity mom is manageable, Melchior said. But it requires sacrifice and support. Add to this challenge the idea that many women feel the need to be twice as productive as their male colleagues: “I’m going to work twice as hard and be twice as good because I really want to be at the table,” Melchior said. “If you’re twice as good, they can’t deny you being at the table.”