September 3, 2019
Interviewed by: David Snow
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Why Women in Private Equity Need ‘Superpowers’

Gretchen Perkins, the head of business development at middle-market private equity firm, Huron Capital, talks about the woeful lack of women in private equity and what must be done to attract more, particularly at the higher ranks.

Gretchen Perkins, the head of business development at middle-market private equity firm, Huron Capital, talks about the woeful lack of women in private equity and what must be done to attract more, particularly at the higher ranks.


“Why Women in PE Need ‘Superpowers'”

Kerensa Butler, Partner, RSM: Both of us or veterans on the private equity space. How have you seen the landscape change for, I hate to just say women, but under represented populations or in general, what have you seen change?

Gretchen Perkins, Partner, Huron Capital: Well, I think the industry’s changed in the most dramatic way during our years in this industry is it’s so much more mature, and so much more efficient now, and so we all have to step up our game, right?  I have to say that I’m disappointed to say when I entered this industry 20 years ago, there was 10% woman, and today I look around, there’s 10% women. I’m disappointed for my industry and I get it.

I talk to a lot of young women, and their comment is we’ll pull up the website of most private equity firms, and it’s dominated by white males. I don’t want to fight that fight, and now they’re becoming entrepreneurs on their own. They’re starting a business. I choose to believe that young, smart, gunner women, and folks who are otherwise under represented have more choices, and it’s our job as a private equity industry to make this industry more exciting, and more interesting for them so that they will join our numbers. 

I’m happy that many more firms are trying to make it better, and as they see those of us who can do it, who can operate at a high level while having a family, having a real life outside of work, that’s helpful. They’ll see that there are those of us who have made it work, and they can too, if they choose, too.

The child bearing years coincide with your real hard hours years in investment banking, services for private equity, or private equity. I know many firms, there’s numerous investment banks that are saying, okay you can have less deals. If you’re raising young family, instead of working on five deals, you can work on two or three, and it won’t impact your career path here. It’s those types of creative, and accommodating ideas that I think are great, and we’ll help budge that number. I hope when I leave this industry, we’re at 25%.

Butler: That’d be awesome. I’m in it with you.

Perkins: Thank you.

Butler: Let’s do it.

Perkins: Let’s do it.

Butler: One of the things, when I work with a lot of the women, and under represented populations in my work at RSM, I say, “What’s your superpower?” I believe in good to great, and being a Level 5 leader, and taking that company concept, and bringing it home of what do you do the best in the world at? And so, I would ask you, “What’s your superpower?”

Perkins: My superpower is now is my contacts, my connectivity, and my networking group. I have worked really hard over my whole career to create a network, and it has paid dividends. It pays more, and more dividends as I go further in my career, so I think my ability to form a quick connection with someone, find some common ground, and have that person, and myself have a reason to want to continue to stay in touch after we’ve left our initial contact is my superpower. It’s very handy later in the career to have any number of people that I can call up on any number of topics, and say, “Hey. What do you guys do,” and they’ll tell me even if they’re a competitor or give me information on something that is not widely known. It’s very helpful.

Butler: Your best advice is work on your networks now. Work on your networks now while you’re young. It’s hard. It’s hard to walk out of the office at 5 o’clock, and go to a networking reception, right, because everyone around you is looking at you judgy.

Perkins: Why are you leaving so early?

Butler: Right. Why you leaving so early, and you’re not leaving early. You’re going to work. You’re going to work. Networking is work. You can’t just float into a room, grab a drink, and talk to the same three people for two hours. That’s a total waste of time. Then you are leaving the office early, and just kicking back, but if you’re going, and you’re actively working a room, and trying to find connections between people that can be helpful, and offer value. Perkins: That’s true. If that’s something that you’re good at it, and you like press it, press it hard. Exactly what you said. If you’re not, find another way to be differentiated. Find another way to add value to your firm in your portfolio companies.

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