As John Donne famously said: “No man is an island”. The same goes for women, especially in private equity, where a strong network is key to success. This was the advice our guests at the PER Women’s Dialogue in Munich received from expert speakers Inna Gehrt, Partner at Mandarin Capital Partners, and Nina Albert, Partner at Pinova Capital.
It can be intimidating to network with confidence when you stand out as the only woman in the room. However, our speakers advised, it’s an absolutely crucial skill if you want to progress in your career. They described the benefits of building a list of contacts that can act as special advisors when you have an important question.
A particularly special connection that all women in the industry could benefit from is a mentor. While your mentor can be either male or female, both speakers agreed that they shouldn’t work for your current company. Sometimes you need a balanced, outsider’s perspective. Inna said the best advice she’d received from her mentor was to put a higher value on cash compensation than she did on her title. In a money-driven industry, her mentor argued, being paid more means you get taken more seriously.
A headhunter should probably be another member of your network if you want to make sure your compensation remains comparable with others at the same level. Women are more reticent to take calls from headhunters but they can be used as a trusted advisor for due diligence before making a move into the industry and before the compensation reviews you’ll have once you’ve found your feet.
Our speakers built their respective networks in different ways. Nina felt she originally went into private equity too soon, having joined the industry after her master’s degree, so she switched to the operations side, building up a strong industry network that would benefit her later when she moved back to private equity from an operational CFO role. Inna took a more traditional route, working in transaction services and consulting before moving into a role in private equity. She felt that building up her network in this field before moving to the buy side put her in a strong position.
Female networks, which this evening was aimed at building, are particularly important if you decide to have children. Inna, a mother of three, was keen to reassure the women in the room that it is possible to succeed as a private equity investor and have a family. It can be isolating being the only member of a small team taking extended leave during maternity, but, as Inna said, you’re not alone in the wider industry.
The Women’s Dialogue gave room for women to speak openly and honestly about challenges and success stories alike, and was well received by the attendees. The evening also offered everyone the opportunity to act on the speakers’ great advice and form beneficial connections.