The BVCA held their latest event in the Women in Private Equity and Venture Capital series, a breakfast at Dartmouth House in Mayfair. PER Consultants Georgia Mernagh and Hafsah Bhatti attended the event. The breakfast provided a much needed opportunity for professionals to network, seek advice and discuss the pressing issues surrounding gender diversity in private equity and venture capital.
The key speaker was Jan Rutherford, a partner from Scottish Equity Partners – a European focused venture capital fund. She joined as an associate over 13 years ago, starting her venture capital career several years earlier with the help of the Managing Director of PER, Gail McManus, when she joined Dresdner Kleinwort Capital. Her speech described her non-traditional career path into venture capital and was followed by a lively Q&A session.
At school, the career aptitude tests pointed Jan towards Maths and Science. She feels this was a time when career options for women were particularly constrained and venture capital was never on the list of possibilities. After an early career in clinical research, Jan was encouraged by her boss to consider a career change and move into finance. Her move to venture capital firm Dresdner Kleinwort Capital was extremely well-timed as she pointed out that this was the easiest time in history to move into venture capital. Today the job market is much more competitive and it has become increasingly difficult to move into a fund without prior financial services training.
As one of very few female partners in venture capital, the topic of gender diversity is of great importance to Jan. Last year SEP raised a new fund and the proportion of women employed by the firm is becoming a staple on LP agendas. Interestingly, in Jan’s experience she has seen more women move towards COO and CFO positions than into CEO roles within SEP’s portfolio companies. She highlighted the importance of women speaking up for themselves and reaching for the limelight. Her personal transition to partner is a good example of this. On the back of a hugely successful exit in the portfolio, she asked for her promotion and was made partner. If you don’t ask you simply don’t get!
Other topics which came up during the Q&A included the difficulty in retaining women within the deal team, especially post-maternity leave. Job sharing is a potential solution to this issue and has the benefit of ensuring that the team is well-resourced. However, in practice it may be difficult for smaller venture capital firms to implement this and the performance of the investment team is unstudied.
Overall, it was an interesting event and a good opportunity to discuss diversity issues within venture capital and private equity. The BVCA continue to host more events around this topic and PER will be following closely.
About the authors: Georgia focuses on junior to mid-level roles in private equity, credit, infrastructure and real estate. Hafsah focuses on investor relations, fund raising and placement, fund of funds, co-investment and secondaries positions. Between them, Georgia’s and Hafsah’s teams have placed 80 professionals in the last year, 25 of which were women.