Measurement against industry benchmarks and internal targets is clearly the simplest way to ensure that your DE&I programme is really working. There is no doubt that headline stats paint an important picture. Riverside has doubled the number of female investment professionals across the globe over the past four years, according to the firm’s chief operating officer Dörte Höppner: “As of March 31, 2021, nearly 40 percent of our full-time employees are female, including several senior positions.”
Brookfield Asset Management has increased female representation among SVPs from 14 percent, five years ago, to 36 percent, and among managing partners from 6 percent to 16 percent over the same period, according to the firm’s chief operating officer Lori Pearson.
KKR has quadrupled the number of senior women in its ranks since the formation of its inclusion and diversity council in 2014. The proportion of women in investing roles at the firm has increased from 9 percent to 25 percent.
Triton Partners, meanwhile, measures itself against its industry peers. With a workforce that is 25.3 percent female, the firm’s gender parity exceeds the private equity industry average of 20 percent. Kartesia points to a workforce that is 36 percent female, compared with a European private debt industry average ratio of 14 percent.
Headline stats can be oversimplistic, however, especially as so much of the focus pertains to gender. And it is important for firms not to congratulate themselves based on narratives supported by selective data.
“People love to quote stats on how many women or minorities they have in their organisation, but it is important to take your tracking to the next level,” says Anne Philpott, principal on the private equity and junior capital solutions team at Churchill. “You need to look at how many minorities have been promoted; how many women are in management positions or earning carry; how many diverse team members have ownership stakes in the business.”
Statistics for people from Black and other minority ethnic communities, for example, can be particularly misleading. “Some of the biggest private equity houses in the world are run by people of Indian descent,” says Wol Kolade of Livingbridge. “Looking at the statistics, it would be easy to believe there is no real problem with BAME representation in private equity. Except, of course, there is. Because there are virtually no Black people. Be careful what labels you use. Be brave.”
Apax’s Johnathan Medina says that although measuring the diversity of the upper echelons is important, it is not the only way to gauge success. “It can be hard to get people excited when those are such big, hard numbers to move,” he says. And so Apax focuses on the effectiveness of each individual initiative. Since launching Thrive LGBTQ+, for example, the firm has been tracking membership numbers, employee engagement and inclusivity polls.
“In a year’s time we will ask those same questions to see whether Thrive has been effective or if we need to make changes,” says Medina. “Private equity is all about a performance culture. Treating inclusion and diversity in the same way tends to yield greater results.”
Looking beyond headline stats is vital when it comes to those less visible forms of diversity – where, in many contexts, it is impossible to collate the data and, in some cases, illegal to do so. KKR, for example, received a perfect score of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2020 Corporate Equality Index, which reports on corporate policies and practices related to LGBTQ workplace equality. It has also been recognised by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption on its annual list of the Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces for five years in a row.
Although numbers can be frustratingly slow to move in a private markets context, there are other means of determining whether you are on the right track. Simply observe behavioural changes. Are hiring managers consistently employing inclusive language in their recruitment campaigns? Are members of staff – from both majority and minority communities – more engaged with the initiatives you have embarked on?
Finally, it is important to remember that DE&I is a journey. It is vital to continuously assess whether your programme is working or if it needs to evolve. “You can’t take your eye off the ball,” says Kolade. “This is something that constantly needs to be reinforced. There is no magic formula. It is test and learn, underscored by an unwavering commitment to get there in the end.”