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International Women's Day: Female Representation in the Investment Industry

For International Women’s Day, Grace Hudson spoke to several women who are each striving to empower and encourage other women working in the investment industry:

  • Mao Isobe and Katia Mendonca from Synova, which is recognised across the industry as one of Europe’s most innovative growth investors, generating market-leading returns across the full mid-market spectrum;
  • Jane Reoch, an Investment Advisor with Northern Gritstone, an investment company founded by the Universities of Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield and which is based in the North of England;
  • Harriet Rosethorn, an Investment Director at Puma Private Equity, a sector agnostic growth equity firm;
  • Melissa Manzo, General Counsel for AgDevCo, a specialist impact investor in African agribusinesses with the goal of developing sustainable agriculture in Africa, that benefits both people and the planet;
  • Meera Shah, Director with Buzzacott Corporate Finance, primarily advising owner-managed businesses through early-stage investments to full or partial exits and a mentor for the Girls’ Network; and
  • Rebecca Burford, a Partner at CRS who specialises in venture capital, growth capital and private equity investment work, is one of the Firm’s D&I partners, chair of the Firm’s Race Action Group and sits on the Firm’s Future Firm for Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
Does being a woman and an investor affect how you seek new investment opportunities? 

(Meera), I see a difference where diversity of thinking and understanding leads to investors being able to connect to a broader range of businesses serving a diverse set of consumers. I think FemTech has been a brilliant example of this - with greater awareness on feminine hygiene and menopause, there has been greater innovation and therefore increased investment in these sectors.

(Harriet) I think everyone brings their own perspective and experience when assessing new business opportunities or managing portfolio businesses, which is why diversity is so important.

(Jane) That diversity of thought can also lead to change in the industry.  Indeed, many of the early ESG frameworks in the industry were put together by female leaders. I strongly believe that diverse teams make better business decisions and so at Northern Gritstone we evaluate all prospective investments against UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Do you agree that there has been a positive trend for female representation in the investment industry?

(Mao) The BVCA published a report in 2021 that concluded there is a positive trend for female representation, however, there is still a long way to go given that this same report found that overall women still only made up 20% of investment team professionals, with 12% of firms still having no women represented at all.

(Rebecca) As advisors, we are also seeing an increase in female representation at the investment companies we work with. We have also noticed an increase in the number of female founders that are searching for investment. It is great to see more women in positions of seniority making investment decisions, although there is still much to be done.

(Jane) I agree that the trend is positive, but the industry is simply not retaining female talent on a consistent basis. The statistics really just highlight the scale of the challenge that we are facing. Quantifiable and strategic targets are important in being able to ensure progress is being properly measured. In addition, it is important that funds are being increasingly held to account by their LPs, with a focus on ensuring that junior talent is supported to take partnership and other senior roles.

(Harriet) It is critical to have diversity in order to drive better outcomes. Some of our most successful portfolio companies have had great diversity at Board level, which I believe has contributed to their success.

(Melissa) AgDevCo believes that gender equality and women’s empowerment are significant factors in the commercial success of its investments, and in delivering development impact. We have a gender equality strategy and we aim to take a more intentional approach in promoting gender equality in our portfolio over time.

What more could be done to encourage women to work in the investment sector?

(Melissa) Often a barrier to women entering certain professions is the perception that they are not welcoming of women. One principal reason in my experience is the conflict between the demands of raising a family and the long hours expected in the relevant industry. The move towards increased flexibility and working from home is a big step in the right direction, and I’m hoping we’ll see concrete results in terms of increased female representation in the Private Equity industry as a result. When childcare (and caregiving generally) is no longer seen as only a woman’s concern, I am positive that we will see much more gender-balanced workplaces.

(Meera) Women joining the industry now have access to a stronger support system, many more female-only networks, in additional to a greater number of inspiring female leaders in the industry to look up to. (Katia) We are very lucky to have one of Synova’s Founders, David Menton, recently join the Board of Directors for Level20, a platform with a common goal to support the next generation of women in the investment sector. This gives Synova as a firm unique insight into how to navigate the challenges and opportunities that come with increasing representation, as well as providing a support network for our junior females in the team.

(Jane) We have a female Chief Investment Officer, Marion Bernard, who's been a trailblazer for diversity in the industry for years.  It is critical for juniors to be able to see women working in senior leadership positions, as well as women who are successfully demonstrating that you can work in a demanding and intellectually stimulating job, whilst also working flexibly. I have juggled working part-time at two funds simultaneously and both have been very successful.

(Katia) It is also hugely beneficial for men in the industry to be open to learning and gaining female-led insight and advice on topical issues promoting gender diversity, which in turn encourages decision makers to be more proactive as opposed to reactive in solving concerns.

This article was produced as part of Charles Russell Speechlys' Women in Leadership initiative. You can read more about this initiative and other events that we have hosted by clicking here.

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