Private equity is adding more women to its ranks than ever before, but women's overall share of the growing industry is only inching up. Fewer women in key investment roles also means fewer women are positioned to lead firms in the future, private equity investment professionals say.
The data tell the story. Women accounted for 16.3% of all private equity professionals worldwide, but only 6.5% were partners or managing partners as of March 15, according to data from Preqin, a London alternative investment research firm.
The unsuccessful gender discrimination lawsuit brought by Ellen Pao against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers put a spotlight on the underrepresentation and treatment of women in the industry.
Worldwide, the percentage of women in top jobs is creeping up, but remains low. Women hold 11.7% of the senior positions in private equity as of March 15, up from 10.7% a year earlier and up from 10.4% in March 2013, according to Preqin.
Venture capital has had the greatest increase in women executives, with 14.8% in senior positions as of March 2015, up from 11.2% in 2014. At infrastructure firms, women held 14% of the top jobs in 2015 vs. 13.6% at real estate firms and 10.5% at buyout firms.
However, no research firm tracks departures from private equity, and there is little historical data tracking the percentage of women in private equity that goes back more than three years.
Many more men than women apply for private equity jobs, and women leave private equity careers more often than men, industry executives say.
“Finance is not for everyone, but the number of women in private equity — and in senior roles in PE — is much greater today. There are more women in the bigger firms than ever before,” said Alisa Amarosa Wood, a member at New York-based Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. LP who heads the product specialist area globally raising capital.
“That said, I think it's still an issue, the external perception that women are not serious about their careers. But women who are leaders can change the culture of their organizations and gradually shape industries.”
Women who leave today mostly switch careers within finance or become entrepreneurs; a decade ago, women left to raise families, she said. Whether a woman moves out of private equity or sticks with it depends on the firm. “It comes down to the culture of an organization. At KKR, there's a support network. I think the view is that men and women alike are going to take time for our families,” Ms. Wood said.