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Q2 2023 - (released August 2023)

SA's quarterly Private Equity & Venture Capital magazine

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From The Editor's Desk

by Michael Avery

Though Barbie is breaking box office records and dividing opinion along the way, as any worthy artistic pursuit should, I find myself disinclined to embrace sweeping generalisations that purport to pigeonhole the genders into neatly defined behavioural categories. It’s an assumption-laden concept that demands more than a superficial examination. For example, the idea that women have greater relational and communication abilities than males, or that men are fundamentally bolder and more forceful, is relatively shallow and fails to convey the deep fabric of human complexity. But as we celebrate Women’s month, one thing remains constant: women are at the forefront of driving transformation. Over the past five years, women have steadily increased their presence in senior leadership positions, contributing to diverse decision-making and paving the way for a more resilient future.

As Arancha Gonzalez Laya, the esteemed Dean of the Paris School of International Affairs, passionately pointed out during the 2023 Annual Meeting at Davos, the rise of diversity in leadership not only enhances the quality of outcomes, but also injects much-needed solidity into our results. Indeed, given the challenges we face today, from climate change to the fragmentation of globalisation and rising autocracy, achieving better outcomes is imperative. But the cold fact remains that the regrettable lack of gender parity in our time means that realising equality will now require 132 long years.

However, amidst this seemingly bleak reality, a glimmer of hope emerges from the latest Southern African Venture Capital and Private Equity Association (SAVCA) Private Equity survey for 2022. The survey highlights a notable improvement in gender diversity among PE firms, with a growing proportion of organisations boasting more than 50% female representation. Notably, the number of firms showing an enhancement in gender diversity between 2020 and 2021 has reached 17%, with a remarkable 50% of women occupying front office roles, compared to a mere 12% in the previous year.

The current landscape, with its mix of crises, demands immediate and strategic responses from leaders. It is now, more than ever, that we must seize the unique opportunity to tackle short-term shocks, foster long-term resilience, and redress deep-seated inequities by pushing for gender equality.

Considering these circumstances, we sought insights from leading voices in the South African private equity community to emphasise why crisis-thinking should never undermine, displace, or delay efforts to achieve gender parity.

“Inclusion is not just a buzzword, but a fundamental value,” says one of these influential voices. Companies that weather these tumultuous times and emerge stronger are those that use this moment to create fairer workplaces and environments, valuing and addressing gender parity. The future workforce demands more than lip service to inclusivity; it seeks organisations that truly embody this core value. As the recent Edelman Trust Barometer reveals, a substantial portion of global consumers and potential employees align themselves with brands and companies that align with their own beliefs and values. Gender parity is not merely a moral imperative; it is a practical necessity in today’s business landscape. In a world where the war for talent is intensifying, companies that prioritise equality will undoubtedly come out ahead, while those that ignore it will lose out to their more progressive competitors.

A shining example of progress can be found in Edge Growth, a prominent South African SME development specialist and impact investor. The appointment of Janice Johnston as the new chief executive of its Ventures business is a testament to their commitment to diversity and impact. Johnston’s return to the company, along with her previous experience as chief executive of Growth Equity Portfolios, brings with it a deep passion for impact and diversity, making her appointment all the more significant.
As we navigate the dynamic world of private equity, let us recognise the indispensable role that women play in leading us toward a future of progress and equality. The statistics may paint a daunting picture, but through collective action and unwavering dedication, we can accelerate the journey to gender parity and, in turn, build a stronger, more resilient private equity landscape for all. 

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