Originally published in Spanish in Mujeres Top del sector legal en asesorías de M&A, July 2021
In your opinion, what is the reason for the gender gap in the M&A market?
For a sector at the cutting edge of innovation, it’s counterintuitive that there continues to be a gender equality problem across the board. Diversity at all levels of the M&A process still ranks lower than it should and until these numbers begin to even out, it should continue to be a conversation we all visit regularly to ensure progress.
There are countless reasons behind this gap, but in the same way market reactions are influenced by perception, so are the implicit (as well as explicit) biases present in the industry. The gender gap persists in large part because there are institutional, systemic, and cultural obstacles that prevail. These barriers include: concerns regarding work-life balance, lack of networking opportunities, role models and advocates, and conscious and unconscious biases at play during the recruitment process and throughout employment. Despite these unique challenges, many firms are taking more concrete steps to close the gender gap. We only have to look to the myriad of research around the topic to stress the benefit of having diversity around the table when making critical decisions. While the industry is still a long way from gender parity, the narrative about women in M&A is shifting and the data clearly shows driving diversity is not only the right thing to do, but also leads to better business outcomes.
How can technology help eliminate the gender gap in M&A?
In the last year alone, M&A has undergone a significant shift, with game-changing technology now operating as the centerpiece of a notoriously face-to-face industry. It is becoming increasingly clear that the benefits the sector stands to gain as a result of tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning isn’t only a matter of efficiency, but supports gender equality too.
AI-powered tools continue to see greater uptake, particularly in their capacity to help M&A professionals execute and automate tasks seamlessly and at speed. For instance, dealmakers typically have to spend weeks at a time sifting through and reviewing mountains of files for prospective investors. Instead, AI and machine learning can process tasks within a matter of minutes - all the while reducing human error and delivering more accurate results.
When time is money, tech adoption can make all the difference as it allows for M&A practitioners to focus on higher-value activities such as strategy, negotiation, and deal preparation, safe in the knowledge that due diligence is being taken care of. If we frame this in the wider context of improving the gender gap, the opportunity to free up time lends well towards providing a progressive and more balanced workplace model. With the latest research showing women dealmakers experiencing higher rates of burnout, it cannot be understated how beneficial these gains are in offering greater work-life balance.
How can M&A technology accelerate career growth for M&A dealmakers?
Born out of necessity during the pandemic, the transition into virtual dealmaking is set to redefine how dealmakers get things done. Over 240 dealmakers in a recent Datasite survey cited that the pandemic meant they would make more use of technology going forward in the return to the office. From online collaboration to video conferencing, the arrangements we’ve become accustomed to over the past 18-months bring a wide range of benefits and offer M&A professionals a greater opportunity to succeed.
M&A practitioners with a wider range of responsibilities outside of work - especially those with caregiving responsibilities - stand to gain in their career progression if hybrid working is to be adopted in the long term. A greater uptake of technology provides greater flexibility to suit lifestyles and offers enhanced security that can give peace of mind in the highly confidential deal making process. M&A professionals are therefore less likely to sacrifice productivity or a work-life balance. New and enhanced processes in the M&A deal flow will cut out the labor-intensive, admin-heavy parts of M&A - giving dealmakers ample opportunity to shine where it really counts when closing a deal.
What are the main challenges that companies face in the medium and long term in terms of female inclusion in M&A operations?
Dealmaking throughout a global pandemic put the M&A sector through many tests but ultimately showed us how much our perceptions can be tweaked, adapted, or thrown away altogether. There’s no going back if you want to be seen as an agile and progressive institution, so the main challenges will lie in whether your business is flexible and has a progressive and transformative mindset and culture to take meaningful and impactful steps towards greater diversity and inclusion.
The conversation around wellness, balance, and gender parity demands a renewed focus from leaders across the M&A ecosystem. Hybrid working is here to stay and it brings with it, more focus on wellness and work-life balance. Companies that don’t make room for these additions in the long-term will have a difficult time recruiting and retaining talent.
What proactive steps is Datasite taking to ‘even the playing field’, so to speak, with regard to females in leadership and throughout the rest of the company?
In the race for transformative change, most leading companies in the sector are quickly moving beyond a goalpost of recognizing the issue and are instead, actively pursuing initiatives and making changes to achieve gender parity. At Datasite, that means an ethical, accountable, and sustainable thread running throughout the business as opposed to token efforts which yield perfunctory outcomes. To start with, leadership positions across legal, HR, corporate communications, accounting, and sales teams are held by women, which really helps set the right tone from the top. In addition, we’ve created a Diversity Council led by employees to ensure that every part of our recruitment and talent retention process is hitting the mark when addressing and acknowledging the value of diverse viewpoints.
Supporting gender diversity and inclusion is not a singular event, which is why we frequently hold educational workshops, roundtables, and events dedicated to bringing a variety of voices to the table. This year, for International Women’s Day, we held an all-employee panel event featuring M&A industry leaders to discuss how we can shape a more equal future. And we try to focus on driving change across the M&A industry, not just within the company. For example, Datasite is a visionary sponsor of Exponent Women, an industry organization that is dedicated to giving women dealmakers access to meaningful interactions and educational content and we regularly contribute to organizations in the communities in which we live and work.
Datasite is living proof of the value of these approaches and the positive impact it has on employee satisfaction and improving engagement and productivity levels. Our voluntary turnover rate decreased to 8% whilst employee engagement scores rose to 80% this year. The pandemic has taught Datasite a great deal and that is of tremendous value in tearing down biases and ensuring the best talent has a seat and voice at the table.