Lessons learned. For quite some time, EQT has been working methodically to achieve a more even gender distribution in the organization. Anna Wahlström, Global Head of Human Resources at EQT, was one of many who shared useful thoughts at AP6’s seminar about gender and diversity in Private Equity.
Photos: Johan Olsson
For the second time, AP6 invited representatives from Nordic PE funds to share their experiences on how to achieve a better gender balance. But, many caution against targeting women in various types of campaigns or special initiatives. Why? Because the outcome is sometimes completely the opposite of what was intended.
“Women who applied for a job with us were very unhappy when we during the interviews brought up the issue of parental leave and care of sick children. Experience has shown that it’s the wrong thing to discuss with young, highly ambitious and educated women,” says Anna Wahlström, Global Head of Human Resources at EQT.
She has identified several factors causing women to either voluntarily avoid PE, or be passed over during the recruitment process for a job in the PE sector. One such factor has to do with views on work experience. In general, the PE sector wants individuals with relevant experience, but one should not wait too long before applying since it is important to be able to grow into the PE-culture. Men and women behave differently here. A man might very well apply for a job in the PE sector after having worked in a closely related sector for just a couple of years. Women, on the other hand, wait four to six years.
“Rather simplified, you could say that, compared to men, women feel they need to know more before they’re prepared to move on in their career. They also feel a stronger bond of loyalty to their employer. Men, on the other hand, are in more of a hurry. They are eager to try something new and are more likely to quit their job and apply for a new one, if it feels like there isn’t a good fit,” says Anna Wahlström.
It also means that women with relevant education and experience are passed over, because they’ve stayed too long in their most recent job. And, women who do get invited to an interview may be confronted with questions on their intentions regarding parental leave and care of sick children. Even though an employer asking such questions may have the very best of intentions, it might not always be perceived so.
“Women go to an interview because they want an attractive, demanding job. They expect questions about that! They feel offended by questions on how much they will be away from work taking care of children. Already at this point, women notice that the employer treats women and men differently,” says Anna Wahlström.
For quite some time, EQT has been working methodically to achieve a more even gender distribution in the organization. Experience has led the company to introduce entirely gender-neutral recruiting processes. They’ve also noticed that the lack of female role models makes it difficult for newly employed women to find a sponsor who can explain the culture and ensure that they become involved in attractive projects.
“It all plays a role. There is a risk of ending up in a downward spiral, where ambitious women end up working twice as hard to become accustomed to the work culture. They risk missing opportunities that go to their male colleagues instead. And, in the end, they may just give up and apply for a different job. In the worst case, the organization itself might conclude that women simply don’t want to work in the PE sector. Simultaneously, highly competent women in the finance sector wind up concluding that the PE sector just isn’t worth pursuing,” says Anna Wahlström.
Others in the PE sector have had the same, or similar experiences. At Nordic Capital, they are testing various approaches to, in part, reach women who are interested in working in the PE sector and, in part, change the overall image that women have of PE.
“I’ve asked women in our organization if I could meet the women in their network. At regular breakfast meetings, women with various types of connections to the finance sector get the opportunity to engage with employees who are working in a variety of functions with us. It’s all based on understanding and knowledge, over the long term. The aim is for women to regard us as a future employer. We also want to promote a more truthful picture of the sector as a whole,” explains Sofia Wetter, Head of Human Resources at Nordic Capital.
Triton sees it as crucial to, at an early stage, identify women who are interested since recruiting talent early in their career is how the PE-companies can find female professionals.
“Statistics show that it is difficult to join PE-companies at a senior level. In order to increase the number of women in an organization is it therefore more realistic and constructive to try and make an impact further down the line, when recruiting junior employees. After that, all efforts need to be on getting them to stay,” says Thomas Hofvenstam, Investment Advisory Professional at Triton.
Photos: Johan Olsson
Several of the participants at the AP6 seminar brought up the issue of homogeneous organizations. The sector is overwhelmingly dominated by men, which is a problem. But, it would be just as serious if the reverse were true. The reason is that, in a homogeneous structure, there’s a risk that anything outside the norm will be perceived as strange.
“It’s crucial for an employer to realize the importance of getting employees to understand and respect their co-workers, regardless of background, experience and education. One valuable way of doing this is by discussing values, in a variety of contexts. Often, it leads to greater understanding and acceptance of many issues. It’s a way of changing stereotypic recruiting patterns that are disadvantageous to women,” says Camilla Richards, Head of Investor Relations at Atomico.
Equally important as to not focusing on women as a category of employees who need special support and who should be treated differently, is creating uniform ‘rules of the game’, which neither favor, nor disfavor anyone in the workplace. Having men who are willing to share responsibility for the children isn’t enough. Not if, despite that, the organization is nevertheless set up in a way that makes life difficult for employees with small children.
“Gender neutral measures are preferred over those just directed at women. Employers need to come up with broader solutions, which can also be used by men,” says Rebecca Christine Svensøy, General Counsel at FSN.
One way is by setting up a well-functioning infrastructure for employees who are starting a family. But the focus needs to be on both men and women. It needs to facilitate their ability to participate in an intensive work flow, even when they have small children.“If an employer’s view is that it’s obvious for both men and women take responsibility for children, there will naturally also be a well-functioning infrastructure in the workplace that makes it possible. One example is always having two employees on each project. That way, there will always be one fully updated person available when the other is away. The work flow also becomes less vulnerable, which makes life easier for everyone,” says Marta Sjögren, Partner at Northzone.
Even though all participants at the AP6 seminar are in various ways trying to increase the percentage of women in their organization, they don’t see each other as competitors when it comes to recruiting women.
Instead, there was agreement that, first and foremost, it’s about changing the image of the PE sector. Once that happens, there will be better conditions for a competitive labor market.
Or, as one participant put it:
“First, we need to get women through the door in the PE sector. Then, we can start competing for them.”
This was the second time AP6 arranged a seminar on gender and diversity in Nordic Private Equity. The first took place in 2016. Gender and diversity are one of two focus areas in AP6’s sustainability work. The second focus area is climate.