September 28, 2022

Expert Spotlight: Women in Dealmaking – Up for the Challenge

M&A has long been an industry dominated by men. But things are changing. Indeed, it’s hopeful to see that more women than ever count themselves as dealmakers, and more are making it to the top levels. But can more be done? And how?

Datasite recently held an exclusive women-only event where nearly 100 women joined Datasite’s Nertila Asani and senior dealmakers Jill Christie, Kate Briant, and Laura van Alkemade to discuss the challenges women in the industry face, the changes taking place in the sector, and advice for the next generation of women in M&A. 

Equaling the playing field
Datasite recently conducted a survey of 600 M&A dealmakers this year to find out if and how the industry is changing. Like many financial industries, M&A has long been a male-centric domain. But the landscape appears to be shifting to a more equitable space, at least in some areas.

Interestingly, in terms of promotions, the survey found that men and women sought promotions at about the same rate in the last two years. But 5% more women were offered promotions. That’s great news – but 12% of women ultimately turned down promotions. And in terms of overall career progression, for women it is faster than men’s to manager level, but then drops off.

Clearly, challenges persist for women. But firms are working towards trying to level the playing field.

Briant, a senior partner and founding member of London-based PE firm CapVest, had the opportunity to help build the firm’s framework from the start. “We have a very international and diverse team that we've built in that way deliberately. There's no overarching culture in the firm and everybody, therefore, feels they can just be themselves,” explains Briant. “We demand to see balance in our candidate lists, but it’s up to the candidates themselves to make it through our standardized hiring process. Once employed, we offer all employees a level playing field, and I think all we want, as women, is a level playing field, and then we can make our own way.”

However, for other firms, evolving existing policies and being very proactive in terms of firm goals is the name of the game.

van Alkemade, a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs says: “It’s not only about diversity or promoting equal opportunities to women. It's really about fundamentally believing that we drive better business outcomes for our clients with a diverse workforce and when your workforce reflects your client base. It starts with your hiring policy. We have very clear targets as to how large the female population needs to be as part of the overall analyst intake per year, and we're very proud that we beat it last year: it was 52% globally.”

Christie, a partner at White & Case and head of the global women’s initiative there says that they are laser-focused on getting more women into the firm partnership: “I think we are not alone in this area. Right now, at White & Case approximately 22% of all partners are women. But it's sort of hung at that level, which is frustrating for me and a lot of other people. So, the women's initiative is really trying to impact that number and make positive change.”

Supporting roles
But what happens once the women are in the door? Datasite’s survey examined how well organizations supported M&A professionals after they were given a promotion. And when it comes to post-promotion support, women were more likely to report both extremes: either receiving above-average support or not enough. And with the latter (not enough support), it was especially in the areas of management training and the latitude to make mistakes. 

So, what can be done, or be done better, to support women?

van Alkemade says that Goldman offers support to women pre- and post-promotion at every level: associate, VP, and MD. They also have various career initiatives that really provide extra platforms to think strategically about your career at every point in time.

She stresses: “I think that if you work as hard as we do, you sometimes just simply don't really think about it. And it’s really key to take time out of your day job, to force yourself to actually think about it because it's important.”

Christie agrees that it’s important to question what happens next – it’s not just about making more women partners, but ensuring they’re successful: “What does making successful people and being successful partners mean, and also what may women want instead of partnership? And how do we support women's careers in ways that are a bit more diverse than just saying, ‘Okay, you need to meet this one particular metric’?"

Briant agrees: “It's really helping support people to feel confident and brave to go that extra mile and earn respect. And things like mentoring and networks that support each other and help each other work through different situations can help us be brave, to put our head above and go the extra mile.”

Christie feels that such encouragement can often be underrated. When she came back from maternity leave, she found things quite stressful and questioned whether to stay or not. “But it actually took just one of my partner mentors at the firm who said, ‘You should be a partner’. And that was the sort of encouragement I needed to do it. And I’m glad I did, because I was a good associate and I'm a good partner.”

Challenge accepted
But ultimately, it’s up to each individual.

“It's up to each of us to actually make it happen, to take charge of your own career and make it work in a way that works for you,” stresses van Alkemade.

“Be proactive and go after your own career development,” advises Briant. “I wouldn't put that in anyone else's hands.”

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