Blackstone urges firms to ask women why they will not join

Investment conference hears of efforts to boost diversity in private equity industry

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackstone Group.

Stephen Schwarzman, chairman and chief executive officer of Blackstone Group.

 

Blackstone had trouble recruiting women until it asked why the prospect of joining the firm was turning them away, co-founder Stephen Schwarzman said at Saudi Arabia’s flagship investment conference.

“Like many people in finance, we were having a lot of trouble hiring women. It was a male-dominated business and we made a decision to change that in 2015,” Mr Schwarzman said during the opening panel of the Future Investment Initiative, or FII.

“We analysed it and what we realised is that women weren’t applying to Blackstone. We tried to find out why and we found out that they were scared of us. I don’t think I’m very scary.”

Fellow panellist, Banca Santander chairwoman Ana Botin was quick to jump in and say that what is scary is to be “the only woman always surrounded by men”. Ms Botin was the only woman on the eight-person panel, although the conference was opened by female speakers.

In the years since, Mr Schwarzman said Blackstone had made a push to tweak its culture and had seen the proportion of women in its hiring cohorts rise to 50 per cent from 10 per cent in 2015.

“These things are really possible,” Mr Schwarzman told the audience. “But you have to identify what the blockage is and go out and address it.”

The private-equity industry, which has long prided itself on an aggressive work-till-you-drop culture, has been trying to boost diversity and work-life balance. Carlyle Group is awarding a total of about $2 million to more than 50 executives and other employees globally who are excelling at goals tied to inclusion.

Leaders at KKR and Co gave junior staff every Friday off in November and December last year as executives fretted about burnout after a relentless period for deals.

Blackstone attempted to tackle its shortfall of female applicants by speaking to university students and offering them the chance to experience working at the firm.

“We adapt the culture,” Mr Schwarzman said. “The culture was the same; the difference was that people didn’t understand what the culture was, so we brought sophomores down and what happened was they had a great time and we went back again and we kept recruiting all through it.”

The panel also included Goldman Sachs Group chief executive David Solomon, Mubadala Investment Co CEO Khaldoon Al Mubarak, BlackRock boss Larry Fink, Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates and African Rainbow Capital founder Patrice Motsepe.

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman’s signature event will also host top global executives like Société Générale chief Frederic Oudea and Rajeev Misra, head of Softbank Group’s Vision Fund. – Bloomberg