We are delighted to announced that PEI Media has named Alternatives Investment Director, Amy Ridge Woman of Influence in Private Markets. Amy is passionate about supporting women and diverse-led asset managers, and in light of this achievement, Amy shares on her journey and discusses how to meaningfully increase your exposure to diverse managers or diverse talent.
1. Historically, private markets has been a very male-dominated industry. You’ve been working in the space for over 16 years, which means you joined the industry before DE&I became a serious talking point. Was it about the sector that appealed to you?
I actually came into the private markets industry a little by happenstance. I went to college knowing I wanted to do something in the finance world but was not sure what. I originally thought financial planning, then did an internship and quickly realized that was not the path for me. When I graduated I was offered a position in private equity and knowing not much about it, I accepted!
I instantly loved it. I embraced the lack of uniformity of the asset class (especially back then) as it meant I got to do something new every day.
I have never looked back and it has been amazing to be part of an industry that has undergone so much change and institutionalization during my time. When I started, investors just put anything that was not public equity or fixed income into a catch-all category….private equity. Now we have different portfolios for private equity, real estate, infrastructure, real assets, private debt, etc. It has come a long way!
2. Do you think private markets make a good career path for women? How have opportunities for women – and attitudes to them – changed in the industry since you started your career? Could you sum up the progress you’ve seen in attracting and retaining talented women at all levels and, in particular, moving them into leadership positions?
I think a career in private markets is great for women today. It is an industry growing exponentially both in terms of capital and opportunities. Why not be a part of a growth industry like this?
However, we all know it has been a tough industry for women historically and I have seen many leave over the years. I remember at one point in my career being one of only two women holding an investment role at my entire firm. The main reason: lack of work/life balance. The hours are long, the travel can be extensive and there was little flexibly given.
However, I think the pandemic, for all the bad it brought, has actually helped to improve the work/life balance issue in our industry. Today, there is more flexibility and understanding than there has ever been. I also think that the increasing realization that better diversity is good for organizations, and the resulting greater emphasis to attract women (as well as other diverse professionals), has forced the issue of inclusiveness to the fore.
Don’t get me wrong, we still have a long way to go. When you look at diversity stats today, they are low – especially at the senior leadership levels. We need to keep our foot on the gas pedal to ensure the momentum we have continues through all levels of organizations.
3. How does the private markets sector benefit from having more women?
I value diversity of thought and opinions. Women bring this in a male-dominated industry. But this goes beyond just women. Better decisions are made when people with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, educations, and many other characteristics, are all working together.
Different people bring different ideas, different networks of opportunities and, from this, better investments are made. Echo chambers do not result in optimal decision making.
4. How important is mentorship and networking to supporting women’s careers in private markets? To what extent has this played a role in your own career?
Absolutely crucial. Women need to see other women who have risen up and taken on the senior positions they themselves aspire to have. I have a strong female mentor who helped me with certain situations where I needed another woman’s advice and ideas. For example, when I was struggling with becoming a first-time mom and experiencing the “mom guilt” that came on day one of my return to the office. Just having someone who empathized and shared her own experiences helped me realize it is ok to feel this way, and it is also ok to be a working mom. Those moments kept me in the industry.
I also think it is really important that women have mentors and sponsors of all genders. I have been lucky in my life to have strong male and female mentors, and I think we need to remember we are all human and need support. For me, this is important for anyone in the industry.
5. Are LPs becoming more willing to back diverse managers or is it still a difficult sell?
It is still a difficult sell but getting better. Investors are becoming more open to diverse managers, including emerging managers which can be harder to underwrite due to typically having no track record or history investing together as a team.
While diverse investing is changing, it is our role to continue to demonstrate its business case to investors . As we present increasingly robust data and our manager universe becomes more tenured (today, our programme is dominated by emerging managers), this will change. I see this as a long game, and we are only in inning two.
6. If you had one piece of advice for young women entering private markets, what would it be?
Have no fear! It is such a great time for women to be coming into the industry. Embrace the challenges, don’t be afraid to ask questions and raise your hand for projects you don’t have initial confidence to lead. Work hard and be positive. As my long-time mentor often tells me, “remember crème de la crème”- the cream always rises to the top!
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