More women dealmakers faced burnout than men. A high-powered exec details the 'structural inequalities' that need to be addressed.

  • New data from Datasite shows 60% of women dealmakers faced pandemic burnout versus 41% of men.
  • Disruptions to childcare and support structures took a disproportionate toll on women in finance.
  • Carlyle’s Ashley Evans told Insider firms must fix “structural inequities” to spur progress.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stemmed the flow of dealmaking. But it may slow progress in one of financial services’ longest conundrums.

Women already make up a small portion of employees at banks and investment firms. Even fewer are in roles where they make investment decisions, with over half of the women in private equity working in investor relations and marketing.

The proportion of women in private-equity overall was stagnant between 2017 and 2018 at 18%, according to data from Preqin. And while that figure in private-equity rose to just under 20% in 2019, most of the increase came from junior ranks.

Women are eking out progress in financial services’ notorious boys club, but the impacts of COVID-19 have been heaping pressure on them as many bear significant personal responsibilities at home, when they’re away from their desks.

Some economists have dubbed the pandemic a “she-cession” as women bore the brunt of job losses, disruptions to childcare, and worsening wage inequality, according to the New York Times.

Indeed, 60% of women in dealmaking surveyed by Datasite, said they have experienced burnout during the pandemic, compared to 41% of men in the field. Datasite, a tech platform that tracks the lifecycle of M&A, surveyed over 240 dealmakers throughout banking and finance last month about a return to office-based work and face-to-face meetings.

The survey respondents reflect some of the industry’s existing disparities, as over 70% were men. Its results reveal sentiments prevalent among senior finance professionals, as over 90% of the respondents had spent more than six years in the industry.

“The information about women being more impacted from a dealmaking perspective, it came out as one of the real central points,” Doug Cullen, the chief marketing officer at Datasite, told Insider. “What really got distilled was the area of mental health having a much greater impact on women versus men.”

Datasite said that 47% of women described their mental health since the pandemic as poor to average, compared to 32% of men surveyed.

How firms are trying to avoid creating a “lost generation” of mothers and children

Ashley Evans is a managing director in TMT at the Washington, DC-based investment firm the Carlyle Group.The Carlyle Group

Women now comprise a fifth of private equity employees, according to Preqin’s 2021 Women in Alternative Assets report published in March.

But the disruptions caused by the pandemic risk setting back the sliver of progress women made in the workforce, according to Ashley Evans, a managing director at the Carlyle Group.

Schools were shut, while extracurricular activities for families and their children ground to a halt, only emphasizing how crucial societal support structures are for mothers plying their trade in the finance industry.

Evans, who focuses on technology, media, and telecommunications investments and just closed a $1 billion deal this week, told Insider that the pandemic-induced disruption reveals the prominence of structural inequities and the importance of addressing pay gaps and lack of childcare. Evans warned that if companies do not take the issue seriously, women in the industry could lose hard-fought ground.

Evans, a mother of two, leans on support from her husband as well as the high salary and robust benefits provided by her job to help her balance her career and home life. One of her sons has a rare disease and requires specialized at-home care that became impossible to access during the pandemic, a hardship she said underscored her belief in the importance of employers providing resources for families in hard situations.

She said she challenged gender norms alongside her husband when he decided to leave his work to manage the family’s everyday life and charitable efforts. Despite his progressive outlook, Evans said, their conversation about his decision was still challenging because of the gendered assumptions prevalent in society. 

Amid the pandemic, Evans still managed to allocate some $1.5 billion across four deals in tech in 2020. Two of those transactions were with CEOs she’d never met, which she said provided some testament to the efficacy of working remotely while also juggling personal responsibilities.

And while mothers have traditionally assumed household burdens, there’s an opportunity for fathers to tackle tasks they may have avoided when they were stuck at the office.

Private equity firms in particular, Evans continued, should recognize their extensive reach by diversifying both their own ranks and those of the companies they manage, which could naturally help address structural inequities. 

Private equity giants like Carlyle have doubled down on diversity efforts both internally and at the portfolio company level. In 2020, Carlyle committed to filling 30% of the board seats of all of its portfolio companies with members who come from diverse backgrounds by 2023, Insider reported. 

A spokesperson for $367 billion private-equity manager KKR said that it has increased the number of women in investing roles from 9% to 25% and grown the number of senior women in its ranks fourfold to 21% of senior execs overall since it first formed an internal Inclusion and Diversity Council in 2014. During the pandemic, the megafund also extended its parental leave periods for both primary and non-primary caregivers. 

Carlyle’s Evans said that if companies don’t seize the opportunity for progress, mothers and their children could become part of a “lost generation” dogged by pandemic-induced setbacks. She hopes remote employees’ track record of success sparks a mindset shift in the corporate world.

She said that companies used to make assumptions about who could do what types of work. While before, it was common to assume that someone who could abandon their responsibilities easily to get on an airplane was best suited for dealmaking roles, Evans said that the pandemic has made clear that that’s not the case and deals can get done in new and different ways. 

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