A network created by and for senior women in private equity, venture capital and private credit has this year broached 2,000 members.

Senior Women in Private Equity, or SWIPE, was launched in 2014 by Julia Boyd, an M&A partner at Reed Smith (centre); Lane McDonald, managing director at Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (right); and Priscilla Guevara, a partner at Science Ventures (left). The group’s purpose was to create an environment to develop friendships, share industry experience, and discuss dealflow, co-investment and capital-raising opportunities.

SWIPE’s members today include institutional investors and operators from the likes of Blackstone, Apollo, KKR and Temasek, among others. It has city chapters across the US, including New York, Boston and in California, as well as regional chapters in EMEA, Asia-Pacific, South and Central America, Canada and the UK.

Private Equity International caught up with Guevara and Boyd on the back of SWIPE’s membership milestone to discuss the organisation’s impetus and aims.

What prompted you to launch SWIPE?

Priscilla Guevara: In a sense, a lot of the dealflow that we were receiving at the time was internally, through things that we’re having at work and [someone] coming to us. A lot was inbound. When we started to look back at some of the deals, we realised they were actually shared through some friends.

And that has changed and evolved over time: the way that we network, the way that we build communities, the way that we connect with others. So generally, even if we’re going to the gym, it’s usually kind of a solo activity; people have families, they’re going home… You’re kind of in your own bubble.

When we had this kind of informal get together, we realised that naturally, in organic conversation, we’re talking about what was going on in our day-to-day, and it just happened that we were talking about our deals.

Julia Boyd: Whether it’s finding a proprietary deal, joining a syndicate or getting together with a group of people that are raising a new fund, all these [sorts] of opportunities tend to come around through a lot of informal networking. And I think that for us, the goal of this was to get women together – having fun, forming legitimate friendships and bonds – to share these opportunities with each other.

Have there been instances where SWIPE has led to deals or fund commitments that wouldn’t have otherwise happened?

JB: Yes, definitely. There’s one example – I don’t think I can say the particular deal – where a particular fund wanted access to a portfolio company that they heard, just based on the length of time of the investment, should be coming up for sale at some point. A woman in SWIPE was like: ‘I know someone at that fund, let me phone.’ They signed exclusivity and it was signed up within 30 days.

The one interesting thing about women in private equity is that there [are] still few women at each fund, but if you look across the funds, there’s lots of women. So if you come to a SWIPE event, you’re going to get sort of a broad network of different funds. And the more the industry has been embracing club deals and that kind of thing, having that broad network across funds – rather than… a concentrated group within a couple of funds – I think has been really valuable.

Also, we have LPs that are members as well, so that’s been beneficial for people when they go into raising mode… I know that there [are] members that have met some of these people through SWIPE and been meeting and chatting for some time, so for them to have that history… of being known and that familiarity, I think [it] gives them an advantage.

How can PE improve its gender balance?

PG: You can’t be it if you can’t see it. And I think a lot of it is awareness – like, is this a sexy type of industry? Is this something that I actually see myself in? Maybe people don’t realise that within private equity, there are many different types of roles.

It’s probably similar to STEM – when students are looking at going into that field, there isn’t enough awareness and they’re always saying: ‘Okay, there are males sitting in that role.’ I myself was actually going to be an engineer and I was going to pre-engineering high school. At the career fair, there was someone who was [a] white male… I was like: ‘I don’t know that I’m going to fit in this.’

There are these impressionable moments, and so I think the more and more we see women rising in the ranks, really enjoying their roles, knowing that there’s a community that’s supportive – I think those are things that people gravitate towards.

JB: Private equity used to have a very traditional [career path]… You’ve done your certain amount of years in an investment bank, and then you join a private equity firm. Now, with increased operations roles internally at funds, they’re recruiting from the consulting firms, where there are a lot more women that have come through those ranks than, I think, some of the banks. So there’s sort of a broader selection at that level.

But I think also what’s important and what we’ve seen is the LPs putting pressure on particular funds to have that sort of gender representation. I think [it needs to come] from awareness at an early stage of education, but also being driven from the top and the investors as well.

Should LPs be stricter on gender representation among their GPs?

JB: I’ve seen LPs really focusing on that as of late, and the diligence questionnaire is getting a lot longer. I know that it is a priority for them and I do think it has been a very important driver. And I also think that there’s great GPs that have some great communication with their LPs and talk about things that they’ve learned in terms of what they’ve done for gender parity. So you do see the learning going both ways there, but I don’t think the buck stops there.

PG: Oftentimes, some LPs will have maybe a 30 percent requirement to meet kind of these DE&I mandates… and oftentimes, actually, I don’t necessarily know that it needs to be so rigid… [if you look through to the portfolio and you can] show your receipts, that you’ve invested into minority or underrepresented founders. It doesn’t necessarily have to be just the GPs; there’s so many elements across private equity, the dealflow, even the vendors that you’re selecting.

JB: Private equity is a huge industry and, as Priscilla says, there’s all these different roles from employees at each portfolio company, through C-suite, through board members. There’s a lot of people that are involved in these things. So, again, it shouldn’t be… a simple cut-and-dry test.