In September 2020, Frankfurt School Career Services hosted an evening discussion on ‘Women in Private Equity’ with Martina Pfeiffer, Director at Avent International and Deborah Fleischer, Investment Professional at Triton Partners.
The event was hosted as part of the German Level 20 Initiative. Level 20, originally founded in the UK, is a not for profit organisation dedicated to improving gender diversity in the European private equity industry. Why? Well, ‘the percentage of women working in the private equity sector is lower than in virtually any other industry’, according to a 2017 report by Prequin in cooperation with PwC. Since 2017 numbers might have grown slightly, but they are still not very high.
This lack of female colleagues was confirmed by Martina and Deborah, who shared their personal path into PE in an effort to encourage students to consider a similar career. While they agreed that firms still prefer to hire people with a particular background and internship/work experiences (e.g. investment banking), they also emphasised that the variety of private equity firms is growing and so are the types of successful candidates.
This is good news for all those who discovered their passion for the industry a little bit later. As always, it is a case of knowing your strengths and then targeting those firms that best suit your particular background.
Whether or not a firm is trying to increase its number of female employees, during the interview process women have to show the same level of skills, technical knowledge and commitment as male candidates. One point that stuck with me in particular, is that on average the female candidates Martina had witnessed, seemed to have less prior knowledge than the men regarding the tasks and questions that constitute a typical PE interview. There are multiple reasons why this might be the case, but the fact is that it often translates into an overall worse performance during the recruitment process. In this regard, it was great to hear that Level 20 was planning to offer interview prep sessions in the future.
A perk of the rather small and informal setting of the talk was certainly also the more personal insights that were shared by Deborah and Martina. Nobody is under the impression that PE is a standard nine to five job, but how much work is ‘a lot’? Can you manage a job in PE and a family? How much of a social life can you still have? Naturally, the answer is different depending on the firm and also the individual in question. In reality, managing a successful career in PE while having a family might mean spending two hours with your kids in the evening over dinner and then going back to work. Graduates entering the industry have to be aware that the high workload might prove to be very strenuous and can become a test for relationships and friendships alike. Yet, both Martina and Deborah are great examples that if you truly enjoy what you are doing and are determined to succeed, you can certainly make it work (like many things in life).
A career in PE will always be challenging and time-consuming, but our discussion clearly showed to me that it is also very exciting and highly rewarding if you are willing to put in the effort.
I would like to thank both speakers again for taking the time to share their knowledge and insights and also to Level 20 for organising a great event! I am eagerly awaiting the next one.