Women in Private Equity – a view from the Mid Market

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Laura Morrill, ECI

Laura Morrill, Investment Director at ECI, recently joined Corporate Financier for their Breaking Glass Ceilings feature. The feature brought together a group of female investors to discuss diversity in private equity, particularly the UK Mid Market, and what is still to come.

How do you see gender diversity changing in mid market private equity and at advisory firms?

“The big advisory firms have a bigger pool of university graduates to choose from. The greater gender diversity you see there is a function of that, but there is still less diversity when it comes to senior roles. My experience is that retention is the main drag on achieving diversity long-term. One of the reasons I joined ECI was they felt relatively diverse versus others in the mid market.”

How has the approach to D&I changed at ECI?

“I am on our ESG committee, and I lead our diversity and inclusion work. Last year, our Board approved our first ever strategy document for diversity and inclusion. There is buy-in at the top, and action being driven bottom up too – that is a powerful combination. It was quite a big milestone, but now our focus is on putting it into action. This summer we will look at what has worked and what hasn’t so far.

We have introduced 50:50 gender split candidate lists, and we’ve changed the way questions are asked. A wider range of ECI employees attend the interviews to ensure there’s that diversity of assessment and representation at interview stage.

We have historically wanted people who can hit the ground running and have investment track records. That has potentially limited the pool somewhat. Now we are being more open-minded by recruiting from different industries as well as recruiting at a new entry grade, below investment manager. This means we can try and capture the best people earlier in their career.

Our policy also addresses retention. Initiatives include: having sponsors within the firm, training sessions, people are encouraged to be mentors and mentees internally and externally, and we continue to sponsor organisations like Level20 and OutInvestors.

Why do you think D&I is becoming more of a priority at mid market private equity and corporate finance?

“We know that diverse teams get better results, and we’re all aligned on wanting to drive the best performance. When I joined the world of M&A, diversity felt lower priority and more about ticking boxes. The focus is very different now. It’s important for management teams, advisers, and investors. It’s key for recruiting our future talent and retaining our current employees. We have to be continuing to drive change and improvement in this area, and be able to answer questions on it in any meeting we go to.”

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