Better education & more role models — Ideas in Action from the BVCA Women in PE & VC Conference

Attending the BVCA Women in Private Equity (PE) & Venture Capital (VC) Conference in the Rosewood in London was a breath of fresh air for me. Even though I am relatively new to the industry compared to some of the women that attended the event, I have experienced first-hand that VC is a relatively male dominated industry — the ‘boys club’ as it is quite often referred to. Therefore, attending one of my first BVCA conferences and meeting some hugely inspiring women has made me even more determined to help change the stigma attached to the PE and VC industry and to encourage more females to get involved and recognise PE as a valid career path.

The day brought together a vast range of women in the industry and we saw speakers from across the community address the current issues and more, with contributions from Hanneke Smits, Non-Executive Director, Sofina, and Chair,Level 20; Kathleen Bacon, Managing Director, HarbourVest, and Founder, Level 20; Jennifer Dunstan, Managing Director, 3i and Karen McCormick, Partner and Chief Investment Officer.

As well as making some very valuable contacts during the event, I also took some key points away with me that were discussed using a mix of both round table and panel discussions. The conference was very interactive and audience members had the chance to air their views on what needs to change in the industry in order to attract more females and also what we need to do as industry to keep these females all the way up through the ranks; sharing stories with like-minded women who feel just as passionate about this topic as I do was hugely motivating.

Many valid and respected points were raised during these discussions including improving work/life balance, providing equal pay as women often tend to undersell themselves when applying for promotions etc., the issue of unconscious bias, providing more maternity cover for women in the industry and of course, lack of confidence — something that a lot of women in the industry can relate to. However, there were 2 key issues that kept propping up in almost every discussion that was had and they were:

  • Women need to be better educated about PE & VC in order to attract them into the industry.

As it stands, PE & VC is a relatively unknown and unheard of career path after University, particularly for females. VC firms need to be proactive in their hiring methods and emphasise diversity. Actively engaging with graduates and Universities, offering internships and even improving awareness in schools would highlight PE/VC as an aspiring career path for young women. An interesting idea was also suggested that LP’s should consider the level of diversity amongst their GP firms in order to emphasise the need for diversity.

VC firms need to be proactive in their hiring methods and emphasise diversity

It was mentioned that a lot of the time, the PE industry is marketed in a rather dull light; it is often portrayed as a career that is full of figures and financial modelling; the crucial aspects such as the high quality network that you are exposed to and the level of flexibility that you can avail of are often missed.

  • Women need role models & mentors in order to stay in the industry longer term

The role of mentors was a theme that kept arising throughout the day and it was emphasised that females need something or someone to aspire to in the industry. With the lack of females in senior roles, junior level employees are often left wondering what the career path looks like for them and what is the roadmap to senior level. Once ambitious females are in the industry, the key to retaining their interest is to have role models and mentors who encourage and support their career progression and who recognise the importance of keeping these women in the industry.

Hearing about the lack of these senior women in the industry, I count myself lucky that I am part of an investment team at Atlantic Bridge that is a third female. I can see a clear career path and I understand what it takes to get there. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for every young professional in VC. As one of the Managing Partners at Atlantic Bridge tells me ‘you cannot be what you cannot see’. Senior women in the industry need to have their voices heard so that women entering the industry have something to strive towards.

‘You cannot be what you cannot see’

Attending the conference really highlighted to me the need for more females in the PE & VC industry and emphasised the efforts that are being made to combat this problem. The numbers are dismal and conferences like this emphasise what needs to be done and how we can put the ideas into action. Meeting females in the same position as myself really motivated me and encouraged me to stay on this path to try and break the barriers that exist in today’s industry.