The recently published tenth edition of the Fortune India 500 list reveals that just 29 companies, or about 6% of this year’s 500 largest corporations, have women leaders with executive powers. The latest report by Preqin, ‘Women in Alternative Assets 2020’, also paints a similar picture on gender parity. According to the report, the number of women employed by the alternative assets industry has grown marginally in the last two years and there still aren’t enough women in senior roles; they make about one-fifth or 19.7% of the alternative assets industry’s workforce.

Even the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap Report 2020 says that gender parity will not be attained for 99.5 years, making the situation worse.

However, large gaps remain at senior levels because more women are working in private capital and hedge funds compared with two years ago, but at the managing director level and above, the gender imbalance prevails.

Preqin’s findings highlight the work still to be done as the global alternatives industry looks to improve the representation of women at all levels. The Women in Alternative Assets 2020 report, according to data provider Preqin, shows some encouraging trends, suggesting that initiatives to improve inclusion and global conversations on gender equality may well be having an impact.

While the numbers improve marginally, the rise was unevenly shared across the asset classes. Overall, between 2017 and now, private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds now have a larger proportion of female employees, but private debt, real estate, infrastructure, and natural resources recorded a fall in female representation.

Also, Preqin data reveals that all asset classes follow a consistent trend in terms of female representation. The lion’s share of female employees occupies junior roles, such as analysts and associate positions. But, there is a small drop-off at mid-level positions, which includes senior associates, vice presidents, managers, directors, and principals. Beyond the mid-level, there is a precipitous decline among senior ranks, which spans managing directors, partners, senior managing directors/ advisors, managing general partners, and C-Suite executives.

At junior levels, women make up roughly a quarter to a third of the total number of employees – the range is from a low of 26.7% (hedge funds) to a high of 36.3% (venture capital or VC), Preqin highlights. These percentages decline at the mid-level, ranging from a low of 21% (hedge funds) to a high of 29.9% (VC). While at senior levels, the proportion of women is significantly lower; real estate has the lowest share (8.5%) of female employees in leadership positions.

“It is notable that the VC industry, which came under significant pressure in recent years following gender discrimination allegations at high-profile firms, showed the most improvement,” Preqin noted. Interestingly, VC surpassed all other asset classes in achieving a higher representation of women across junior, mid-level, and senior roles. Women in junior positions made up over a third (36.3%) of all employees; at the mid-level jobs, this figure was 29.9%; and at the senior level, 13.4%.

In terms of global alternatives industry’s women representation by regions, Europe was at the top with 20.4% representation in private equity. The region also pulled ahead in private debt (22.0%), infrastructure (21.7%), and natural resources (22.9%).

While in VC, North America took the lead with 22.9%, Asia ruled the roost in the hedge fund space (21.6%). Real estate, on the other hand, had the lowest numbers in all parts of the world – North America (18.2%), Europe (17.2%), Asia (15.6%), and the rest of world (14.1%).

Preqin believes that work still needs to be done to improve women representation. “The alternatives industry is not alone in reporting low female representation in senior positions,” it notes. In global banking, for instance, women hold less than 20% of board seats and account for less than 2% of bank CEOs, according to a 2017 study by the International Monetary Fund.

Elizabeth Frumson, associate director at London-based investment consultancy Laven Partners, told Preqin in a separate interview that while female representation in finance has improved, she sometimes finds that she’s “the only woman in a boardroom.”

“Having spoken to several females in the industry, there is little room for them to grow due to the stigmas associated with being a woman,” Frumson told Preqin. “Some of them include stereotypes, which hinder the ability a female employee may have to influence her colleagues,” she added.

Further, Frumson added that there is also a large stigma attached to maternity. “Some employers seem to fear female employees choosing to pursue motherhood, which could be a factor against deciding to promote or hire them, even if the candidate has the relevant skills/experience,” Frumson added. She points out that this is even more prevalent for senior roles.

“I also feel that the processes that support a female returning to work after a maternity break may not satisfy the level of support needed.”

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