Mergers, acquisitions, and separations create springboards for individuals looking to grow into senior leadership positions. Navigating the compressed timeline to meet Board and shareholder expectations by close, while positioning the company for a successful post-close transformation requires confidence, collaboration, and a balance of technical and soft skills. As both International Women’s Day and the Women in Private Equity Summit approach, I reflected on my experience guiding companies through transformational M&A transactions. And I am reminded that despite women’s natural capabilities to excel in these areas, the gender imbalance at the helm of deal making and deal execution remains. What can we do to promote change?
1. Raise your hand to raise the bar
Research has shown that diversity on the leadership team isn’t just the right thing to do – it leads to better business outcomes. If your company seeks means to diversify the existing leadership team and talent pipeline, use your upcoming transaction as a proving ground for talented women. The dynamic environment during the deal process from diligence through post-close is an excellent opportunity for organizations to grow women leaders and put them into high-profile, challenging roles that exercise leadership skills, while playing to natural talents. Additionally, these roles often provide rare opportunities for high visibility among company executives and the Board.
For women seeking their next leadership challenge, reflect on your strengths and the capabilities that you want to develop. Raise your hand for a role on the next deal to demonstrate and test these capabilities. Most deals are set up as interim structures where you engage with leaders from other functions and businesses. Your ability to influence others, lead and “firefight” in the face of ambiguity, build relationships to get things done, and “grit” to achieve the new company vision despite daily challenges are all skills imperative to these cross-functional, matrixed teams.
2. Successful deals aren’t just about numbers
Some companies view deals as just another project, with defined synergy targets, budgets, and milestones. However, the companies that are most successful in M&A use deals as opportunities to innovate and transform their businesses. Banish the stereotype that deal making is for a certain type of “numbers” person—transactions require both hard skills and soft skills, and we should broaden the idea of who makes a successful dealmaker and leader.
Deals present opportunities to make impactful changes to the business—including the way employees work together, how the company interacts with customers and how and what new products are brought to market that make the new business even more successful. These activities require the ability to bring together varying viewpoints to a decision, influence change, and balance the long-term business view with short-term deal objectives. Being in the center of the deal allows women to effect change from the start.
3. Invest in women
My first two calls to action focus on growing women leaders internally, but change needs to start from the top by increasing investments in women-led and owned companies. Deals still needs to make business sense against the investment thesis, but it is time to reconsider the criteria by which we define the “fit” of a business. By changing the lens through which we source and evaluate companies, we can shake up the historical norm and shape a future where women are as likely as men to be in the top M&A circles. Let’s commit to looking for great companies to grow and invest in that also happens to be led by women.
In closing, research reports have proven that companies with women on their boards perform better than those that do not, and stocks of F1000 companies with female CEOs consistently outperform the S&P 500. Having more women lead more deals is not just the right societal choice to make, it is the right business choice to make.
I will be celebrating International Women’s Day by sponsoring and attending the Women’s Private Equity Summit in Half Moon Bay, California. I hope to see you there!