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Why are fewer women moving into PE, and what can firms do about it?

Improving gender diversity has been a top priority for employers in the UK private equity (PE) industry over the last decade, and it's positive to see clear progress being made. However, the latest data collected for Dartmouth's Private Equity Hiring Trends Report 2023 points to a break in the positive pattern, with a significant drop in the proportion of women entering the sector in 2022. This raises some pressing questions for the industry. Specifically: what's behind this change, and what can employers do to keep their gender equity efforts on track?

What the data shows?

Our most recent research showed that male hires outnumbered females by a ratio of two to one in 2022, which is a significant negative increase from the gender disparities recorded in the previous two years. Other studies have also made it clear that gender diversity is an issue requiring close attention in the sector. McKinsey found that only 23% of investing roles at PE firms globally are held by women, and just 12% of managing directors are female¹. Understanding the basic data around gender equality, and the underlying factors impacting candidates, is essential for employers. This is the information that shapes hiring strategies, informs the narrative around acquiring key candidates and has the power to change how a business prioritises its objectives. When you have this level of understanding, you can start working on solutions that make sense for your business and the candidates you're targeting.

The nuances behind the numbers

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is, by definition, a broad framework providing guidance for employers to promote a fair working environment for all people. This recent decline in female hiring into PE suggests that, for some firms, gender diversity has slipped down the list of priorities. It's possible that other goals, such as ethnic diversity and social mobility, are taking precedence over gender equality. If so, employers need to reshape their thinking and find an approach that delivers results across the entire spectrum of DEI imperatives. Another possible explanation for the shift is that businesses in PE are facing a 'borrowed challenge', based on the gender make-up of the industries they're recruiting from. PE funds that hire predominantly from sectors with existing and long-standing gender imbalances could be at an instant disadvantage in their efforts to achieve true equity. For example, our data showed that men made up a significantly higher proportion of hires from banking and consulting than from other PE funds. Fewer females in outside industries will mean fewer to apply for roles in PE. The sector is facing a risk of falling into a downward spiral of female representation. Research from our Gen Z report has shown that visible diversity in leadership is much more important to women than men. If female applicants don't see strong gender representation reflected in senior positions within a business, they're less likely to pursue opportunities, prolonging the cycle and creating further problems for future recruitment.

So what can firms do?

The DEI challenge can't be broken down into binary, 'diverse/non-diverse' terms. PE firms should be looking to move away from the 'single quota’ mentality, in favour of developing a full-spectrum equity approach that focuses on outcomes across all diversity categories. This requires a solid understanding of the trends and issues of their target market, and application of best practices to create an inclusive workplace. From a gender diversity perspective, providing clear development pathways and opportunities for women to succeed in PE is not only beneficial for employee engagement and talent retention, but a key factor in successful recruitment. Female candidates who can see clear routes for progression within your business are more likely to accept a job offer and commit for the long term. It's also important to ensure the opportunities available to women are equal to those open to men, offered for the right reasons and accurately reflect performance. Women don't want to be promoted simply so their employer can hit a diversity target, but nor do they want to be disadvantaged by their gender in a patriarchal industry. Be mindful about who you have conducting interviews, and the people who are most visible during the recruitment process. Do they give the best representation of your business and the types of career progression opportunities you can offer to new recruits? As part of the onboarding process, have female team members available to offer support, mentoring and advocacy for new employees. This creates a sense of community, which is a cultural element well-received by women looking to move and progress in the industry.

Get the right support

Changing the face of PE to make it a more approachable industry for women to work in is a complex and undeniably challenging feat. Businesses should identify sources of support and expertise available to help with developing key initiatives, such as designing a DEI plan to identify potential risks or failures like prioritising some groups over others. Dartmouth's Private Equity team supports firms in understanding their target audience and creating effective strategies for hiring and long-term retention. We have an established and long-standing track record of addressing the gender disparity in the sector, and providing working solutions for our clients. In 2014, we established the Women in Private Equity series to help combat this problem. The series is tailored towards junior female candidates looking to make the move into PE, providing guests with access to insights directly from leading women in the industry. In 2022, the series expanded to new geographies including Frankfurt, Paris, and Milan, with over 40 partnering PE funds. Collectively across the industry, we have seen positive progress being made, with female Associate hiring increasing from 10% in 2014 to 41% in 2021. And at Dartmouth, 50% of our placements into PE firms in 2022 were female. If you’d like to find out more about how your business can be involved with our Women in Private Equity series or would like more information about our PE team, please reach out to


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