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RELPI Roundtable: Alternatives in 2022: Issues and opportunities

Developed in collaboration with MUFG Investor Services


Part 3 of 3: Women in Financial Services Leadership Positions:

A Work in Progress


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ccording to the Wall Street Journal, banking is now outpacing other industries in promoting women to executive-track jobs. But there’s plenty of room for improvement. Barron’s reported recently that only 1 in 10 of C-suite positions in U.S. public financial services firms are held by women, and progress in reaching that pinnacle is slow — from 10% to 11% in five years. But is it any different in the forward-thinking world of alternatives?


Jonathan: I’m Jonathan Schein, CEO and Executive Director of the Real Estate Limited Partner Institute, and I’m excited and privileged to lead this three-part roundtable discussion on some of the most important topics facing the alternatives industry. My guests are two key players in these markets — Gila Cohen, Chief Investment Officer of MUFG, and Lorelei Graye, president of Private Capital Data Standards (PCDS), a nonprofit industry organization focused on standardizing and optimizing reporting in alternatives to enable more efficient adoption of this dynamic asset class.


We’ve already discussed the critical role that relationships play in the functioning of private markets, and had a fascinating exchange on why, by their very nature, alternatives are so resilient and creative. In our final chat, we get personal with these two industry leaders — about what it takes to succeed in this market, and in particular, what trends they see for progress for women in the ranks of senior leadership.


JS: Gila and Lorelei, I’m curious: What drew you both to the alternatives market? More broadly, what kind of person do you think is drawn to working in this industry?


Gila: I don't think there's a standard kind of person who comes into private markets. Anybody who has a good financial mind, who’s smart, who’s looking for intrinsic value should be in private markets. Not necessarily exclusively, but they should have some exposure.


Lorelei: Alternatives as an asset class appealed to me very quickly. Before I started working in this space, the other side of the portfolio just did not capture my attention the way alternatives later did. I think very mechanically. I could fix anything if I can picture how it works. Private markets — private equity in particular — makes a lot of sense to me because I could see how it operates.


Gila: Public or private, one thing that I find fascinating about financial services is that storytelling has always been part of its core nature. If you were selling bonds back in the day, you'd pick up the phone and tell a story to sell that bond. If you were a bookmaker, you’d tell a story about the stock, and why they should invest. It's not so different on the private equity side, where you're actually sponsoring companies — and telling their story to potential investors. I think that’s very exciting.


JS: You both are successful, visible women in the private-capital world — a sector that, at least for the time being, still skews male. Let’s talk about your personal journeys: what kinds of headwinds or tailwinds have you experienced on that journey? What advice do you have for women looking to grow their careers in the alternatives space?


Gila: I can tell you that having a female chief investment officer position at a Japanese bank makes things very interesting. It's amazing to see the concerted effort the market is making to bring women into the C-suite. Diversity, equity, and inclusiveness initiatives have skyrocketed, and firms are very conscious about adding female board members. They're recruiting at levels I have never seen before in the industry — being very conscious about bringing women in at the analyst and associate level and helping them stay in their roles so they can get to the C-suite.


These types of initiatives are amazing, but I think everybody needs to be thoughtful of the fact that they take time. Women will not dominate the C-suite overnight. You have to cultivate people to grow within firms — make sure they have female mentors in the industry, that there are appropriate networking groups and support systems. For women to come in at the entry level and get to the C-suite… that's a 15-year process.


We need to be patient, because if you swing that pendulum too far, too fast, there’s a risk of sacrificing historical knowledge about firms and how things work. Without having different types of people, of thought processes, of investors on your team, you're sacrificing a diversity of the moment for long-term, sustainable diversity. So it really needs to be well thought out. I am a huge supporter of these initiatives. I just want to see them done right.


Lorelei: Maybe it's my upbringing, but I forget that I am female and therefore in any way different. So it catches me off guard when I notice I’m being treated differently; I actually find it confusing. My feeling is that I'm simply a person on a mission to accomplish certain things.


But one thing that’s crystal clear to me is the strength and character of the women that I come across in this field. Gila mentioned something that's incredibly important and something I'm sensitive to: mentorship. Because in this business, we need more women in leadership. You can't do that synthetically, it's an organic thing. We need greater balance, and more examples of that!

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