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On Tuesday, September 22, 2020, Allvue Systems kicked off its Women in Alternatives series with a live webinar, entitled “Women in Alternatives: Are We Working from Home or Living at Work?”
Jennifer Prosek, Founder & Managing Partner at Prosek Partners, moderated a lively discussion with panelists Jessica Baron, COO at SVB Capital; Christine Pastore, Managing Director, Capital & Partner Solutions at Vista Equity Partners; and Courtney Powell, COO at 500 Startups. Panelists discussed the challenges of finding a work/life balance in a fully-remote work environment, the encouraging trends they’ve noticed regarding professional opportunities for women in the private equity industry, and the difficulty of raising money in the current climate.
“One of the advantages of our new virtual environment is that you can easily get together a group of phenomenal women from across the country for a conversation like this,” said Susan Wohleking, CMO at Allvue. “I, personally, found their conversation fascinating listening, and it made me all the more excited for the Women in Alternative events we have to come.”
The Women in Alternatives series was created to give women professionals in the alternative investment industry a space where they could regularly discuss the challenges and opportunities they encounter in their roles. The inaugural event perfectly encapsulated the need for a virtual community like this. While the series is meant to focus on professional experiences, the recent collapsing of “home” and “work” into one place inevitably brings new and unique challenges to women professionals across all areas of their lives. Our panelists discussed how they are working to surpass those challenges, just as they have done continually in their careers by achieving success again and again in a historically male-dominated industry.
Part of managing “working” and “living” under the same roof is finding and maintaining a new work/life balance. The panel noted they were wrestling with how to do so in the current environment, and touched on other themes that have recently become ubiquitous – like the desire to see a new set of four walls, and the challenge of living in a world in a state of upheaval.
“I feel like this entire COVID experience has been a series of realizations and adjustments,” Powell said, regarding her lockdown experience. “And then, a month later, you go through that process again.”
But the panel also found silver linings in the new situation. All had traveled extensively before the lockdown and found that not doing so now brought many changes. For some, these changes offered a relief – like the reduced stress of not hopping on an airplane weekly. And for others, these changes served as a catalyst for a personal evolution.
Baron, in particular, discussed how taking on additional responsibilities at home had pushed her to challenge an all too common misconception: That successful women don’t ask for help.
Trying to take on the task of managing her youngest son’s distanced learning while also operating as a COO led her to realize that she needed to lean on those around her, including her husband. “I realized that I need to ask him for help. I need to ask people for help where they can, and that even includes my oldest son,” Baron said. “It’s been really rewarding as a mother and a spouse to see people realize that they need to step up and help. And so I’ve tried to ask more and more people for help and to also tell others they should do the same thing.”
The careers of the panelists varied in length, areas of focus, and geography, but were united in two factors: At the beginning of their careers, all had navigated being a woman in a predominantly male industry; and, in recent years, they had noticed a sea change in terms of female mentorship and professional opportunities for women.
“Early in our careers, the communication between women was very different,” Pastore said. “We were just trying to survive then.”
Pastore felt specifically that, at the beginning of her career, she’d operated in survival mode, grasping at every opportunity she came across. Successfully doing so had required maintaining a careful balance of how she acted and spoke – so that she could maintain the professional respect of her colleagues, still get what she deserved, and still be seen as tough.
In recent years, though, she’d noticed more and more women were starting to have better professional opportunities in the industry. As examples, she highlighted the successes Baron and Powell had both achieved.
“I’m very proud of both of you,” Pastore said, referring to her fellow panelists. “Those are the jobs, those are the executive positions, the C-suite positions – that’s where so many more of us should be.”
Others on the panel noted another shift in recent years: more women authentically helping women.
For Baron, now that she was more established in her career, female mentorship had become an important part of her personal mission. And Powell, working at a company led by a female CEO, discussed how female mentorship and guidance was similarly a foundational aspect of 500 Startups’ professional mission.
While the panelists all spoke about how they had, in spite of initial concerns, been able to raise money during the pandemic, they also admitted that it was not an easy process. Powell and Baron both pointed to their teams’ ability to do this as a strong source of pride over the last few months. And, the panel agreed, finding net new funding specifically was a much greater challenge.
“Net new [fundraising] is hard,” Pastore said. “Private Equity is a trust business and you’re asking someone to invest in a blind pool of capital and they want to meet you if they don’t already know you.”
The stresses of pandemic life were also weighing on their investors just as they were weighing on the panelists. This exhaustion was pushing many investors to stick with their same managers, knowing the board would be comfortable with it – especially when many boards are not necessarily comfortable navigating new relationships over video conference calls.
“Until we get out of this lockdown, work-from-home environment and can actually start meeting people, we’re going to have to wait to get those net new until next year,” Pastore said, to nodding heads from the rest of the panel.
Keep an eye out for more events in Allvue’s Women in Alternatives Series, and see more insights and perspectives from Allvue on our Resources page.