First Round: Closing the gender gap

First Round suspects that as a former bastion of male exclusivity with all the trappings (including an Aston Martin in the lobby), the Royal Automobile Club in London’s Pall Mall has never seen so many women grace its hallways in one evening.

The irony of their presence at the inaugural reception of Level 20 in early November made First Round – and the Level 20 founders – smile as it climbed the staircase to the Mountbatten Room where hundreds of female private equity professionals raised a glass to the new initiative.

Level 20 is a not-for-profit company established by 12 super-senior female private equity professionals with the goal of promoting the rise of women within the industry.

The clue is in the name. Currently, just 5 percent of senior roles at European general and limited partners are held by women, according to its data. It’s clearly not enough. The organisation wants to raise that number to 20 percent by 2020, which it describes as an “ambitious, important target”.

Chaired by Hanneke Smits, a trustee of Impetus-PEF among her roles, Level 20’s other founders are Kathleen Bacon, MD HarbourVest Partners; Cécile Belaman, MD of Bain Capital; Jennifer Dunstan, head of fund investor relations at 3i; Dana Haimoff, MD JPMorgan Asset Management; Lori Hall-Kimm, director at Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan; Alexandra Hess, partner at Cinven; Kathryn Mayne, MD Horsley Bridge International; Emma Osborne, senior partner at Graphite Capital; Christina Pamberg, managing partner Alcyon Holding; Helen Steers, partner at Pantheon; and Sasha van de Water, managing partner at Keyhaven Capital.

So, how do they plan to do it?

First, Level 20 will host events, some with an educational component, with the first planned for early next year. Through these networking opportunities it hopes its members will develop a support system.

It has already started building a mentoring programme to help junior female professionals and is encouraging senior professionals, both male and female, to contribute their time and experience. And the organisation will give back through its philanthropic activities.

It’s a bold initiative, but one for which First Round thinks the time has come.