Private capital and gender gap: Still a long way to go to ensure equal opportunities for women, despite increasing efforts to bridge the gap
10 November 2022

Women represent 40% of the overall workforce in the sector but seldom hold senior positions or positions in investment teams.

The percentage of new hires who are women has increased in recent years and now stands at 45% of all hires.

Market players are taking a more structured approach to ensure better gender equality, especially through ESG policies (40% at international level and 27% at domestic level). Unfortunately, however, these policies are overly focused on maternity leave.

The above are the main findings of ‘Private Capital and Gender Gap: What Challenges Lie Ahead?’, a study carried out by AIFI (the Italian Association of Private Equity, Venture Capital and Private Debt) in collaboration with BonelliErede to investigate gender equality in private capital firms, take stock of the progress made in recent years in terms of gender inclusion and determine which areas to focus on to lead the market to greater gender equality. The study was based on a survey of over 70 market players (private equity, multi-asset, venture capital and private debt funds), 28% of which operate internationally and 72% of which domestically.

The workforce of private capital firms, especially with regard to investment teams and senior positions, shows that there is still a long road toward gender equality in the workplace: women make up 40% of the overall workforce in the sector, but this percentage drops to 24% in relation to investment team membership and 13% in relation to senior positions. Furthermore, half the respondents employ no women in top-management positions. In summary, women are underrepresented at all employment levels, especially in senior positions.

The respondents agree that the issue is often cultural – particularly a perception of the sector as being male-dominated – which makes it difficult to bridge the gap in a short time. In many cases, it is difficult to find women to fill given positions, especially at senior level, despite market operators’ best efforts. As to the next few years, only 19% of respondents have set targets for their workforce gender composition, with those that have aiming for women making up 30%–50% of their workforce.

On the hiring side, the percentage of women has increased in recent years and now stands at 45% of all new hires; this provides more opportunities for women to build their careers in private capital. And another positive trend has emerged: more and more women are pursuing finance and engineering degrees, which were historically male dominated.

Compared to the past, several initiatives have been carried out to promote greater gender equality: 31% of respondents highlighted that they have specific gender diversity policies (as part of broader ESG policies). In this respect, international market players have a more structured approach (40% of those surveyed have policies in place, compared to 27% of domestic market operators), including in terms of reporting to investors, monitoring information on gender diversity in portfolio companies, establishing committees, and carrying out other initiatives on the subject. As to the gender pay gap, only 19% of respondents stated that they have specific policies in place (and only 13% in Italy).

As to corporate welfare, the findings showed several initiatives for greater inclusion, e.g., company nurseries, babysitter-on-call initiatives, supplementary financial support for pregnancy and maternity expenses, and dedicated recruitment of female talent (31% of respondents stated that they have welfare programmes of the kind). Nonetheless, these initiatives tend to be overly focused on motherhood, as if this were the only limiting factor in building a career.

Innocenzo Cipolletta, Chairman of AIFI, noted the following: “The gender gap in the workplace is not just a private capital issue – it affects the entire finance sector. We need to start with an educational system that is more inclusive for women, one in which academic subjects are no longer perceived as being reserved exclusively for men”.

Alessandra Piersimoni, partner and member of BonelliErede’s Private Equity Focus Team, had this to say: “We live in a time in which business strategies increasingly focus on gender inclusion. We thus decided to analyse the challenges that the private capital sector is facing. Although we received positive feedback in terms of Italian and international market players’ willingness to promote gender inclusion as a value capable of driving virtuous growth, much more needs to be done. Naturally, the more we can raise awareness of the data and debate the issue with other stakeholders, the faster we can bring about change”.