Gail McManus, founder and managing director of PER, in conversation with Level 20, not-for-profit organisation founded to improve gender diversity in the private equity industry.

According to Gail, one of the largest misconceptions about private equity careers is that there’s only one path: the investment role. On the contrary, people seeking career development will find myriad options, such as in venture capital, secondaries, LPs and the highly professional expert career paths in investor relations and ESG.

Gail admits that those who come to PE through the traditional routes have advantages: they arrive with some of the skills and tools required to thrive in the ‘deal-doing or transaction ecosystem’. As such, she wholeheartedly supports the amazing outreach of Level 20 to inform university and high school students that PE is a viable career option for women. ‘We need more women equipped to take on these roles,’ she asserts.

This is not to say that outsiders can’t become insiders. The ecosystem is growing, says Gail, and it’s growing to accommodate a wider variety of personalities. While PE investors may have the drive, ambition and tenacity to do what it takes to win against the competition, the individual with a more collaborative nature may find the LP environment offers the opportunity to satisfy their intellectual curiosity while taking part in meaningful investment decision making.

On the topic of what organisations can do to become more attractive to women, Gail wants funds to be more explicit about their culture and values, and be upfront when talking about parental policies. ‘We have to remember,’ she says, ‘the competition for women is strong. So, if you want to attract them, you need to put your cards on the table about what you can offer’.

Subjectivity is another issue that arises in the private equity recruitment process. ‘Let’s move away from fit,’ implores Gail, referring to the tendency for hiring based on shared culture. Prompted for her view on female-only shortlists, Gail ultimately champions the diverse shortlist, as long as this is built through an objective process that mitigates the effects of unconscious bias. The potential problem with the rapport-building approach to interviews is that women may not have as much in common with men as men have with each other. All the while men still fill most senior positions, other men will have the advantage in interviews where rapport-building (such as discussing common experiences and shared backgrounds) is allowed to affect outcomes.

Gail is a strong advocate of networking for women. She reasons that building strong networks inside organisations can provide women with better sponsorship and career development, while building them outside organisations gives women the opportunity to bring data and insights back to their organisations. This is where Level 20 triumphs in their networking and mentoring events for women.

On women developing their careers, Gail argues, 

"Hard work is not the route to success that many women believe it is. Rather, success follows when you start telling people how great you are."

Along this line, Gail suggests that women ‘pick one thing to be known for’, and become the unofficial authority for that thing. For example, an individual could become known for her knowledge on management teams, or her skill in summarising conversations during meetings. In doing so, she creates a powerful role, something that increases her perceived value within her organisation.

Women can help themselves by helping the collective effort. By networking, sharing information and their experiences and engaging with organisations such as Level 20, women have the power to improve gender diversity in the PE industry.

To watch Gail's full interview, visit the Level 20 website below.

We'd also recommend the other fascinating interviews with women in private equity - Valentina Pippolo, Bregal, Jennifer McMahon, Seroba, Jennifer Dunstan, 3i Plc, and Ingrid Teigland Akay, Hadean Ventures.

About Level 20

Level 20 is a not-for-profit organisation founded with the aim of improving gender diversity in the private equity industry.

Find out more