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Kea Clusters connects 100 women in PE and investment

A micro-networking scheme for women in private equity and investment has connected 100 members, six months after launching.

The group helps women in the investment sector make professional connections and aims to establish a supportive network to address gender inequality across the industry.

Kea Clusters are small, unsponsored networking events for women in investment. Each cluster has six to ten members who meet every eight weeks to share professional and personal advice and support.

In an industry where fewer than 10 per cent of senior professionals are women, the scheme has ambitious plans for expansion as it seeks to address the fundamental issue of gender inequality.

Kea Clusters was created in 2018 by investment recruiter and entrepreneur, Caroline Sage, CEO of Kea Consultants, an executive search and advisory firm which focuses on investment and management professionals across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 

Sage launched the scheme after research her company conducted identified several ways in which women are being held back by male-dominated working and networking cultures; one being a lack of networking opportunities available to women because of the imbalance in the number of men and women in investment.

Sage says: “In industries where there is a disproportionate number of men to women, it can be hard for women to get the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Inherently, we form relationships with those that look like us, therefore any minority will have a disadvantage when it comes to a network and, as you become more senior in the PE industry, your network is as important as anything else. In industries like investment where there is still a propensity for male-centric, Alpha cultures to dominate, women who don’t share the same all-encompassing career goals can be put-off or feel unwelcome.

“Kea Clusters is a very deliberate attempt to counter these issues: We get women to create environments where they can, and do, help each other; where they don’t have to conform to male dominated cultures and where they can share experiences so they don’t feel isolated in their struggles, especially in instances where that woman might be the only female in the team and doesn’t feel she has a voice.

“When we started, we were just hoping for enough people to fill one group; I had no idea that we would get to a point where we have ten clusters with 100 people across them. It’s really great to see and I’m really proud of the support and connections that it’s providing to members.”

Kea Clusters are facilitated by the members themselves, allowing conversation to flow freely and honestly without the direct involvement of a headhunter. Currently, all clusters are located in the city of London, although there are plans for more clusters to be established in other financial centres.

Research by Kea Consultants has shown that women in finance are almost twice as likely to be unsure about their future careers than men, and they are more drawn to industries that would associate with team cultures and those that are defined by talent/development strategies. Therefore a fund needs to work harder to attract and retain female associates because currently they are not offering much by way of thoughtful development and collaborative cultures.

Katherine Ireland, Principal at Palamon Capital Partners is a Cluster Leader who’s been involved with Kea Clusters since it’s launch. “I work in private equity at a small partnership and I understand how easy it is for women to feel isolated in investment,” says Ireland. “A lot of women, particularly in smaller firms, are the first and only woman in a team of men, and while many of the problems they encounter as they progress in seniority are not unique to women, there are a number of thornier topics that arise that are far more gender specific.
“We have seven members in the Kea Cluster I lead, with women at all stages of their careers from entry level up to senior roles. Clusters operate in different ways depending on members’ preferences; my own Cluster is quite structured, with questions circulated to the group before each meeting which we then use as a starting point for discussion around the differences between each of our own firms, and the challenges (or solutions!) we may have seen in our own individual experiences. It creates an intimate dialogue where we can genuinely support each other with considered advice which makes the most of everyone’s insights and experience. Our meetings are very rewarding and it’s a great way to engage with other female leaders, colleagues and role models and to build a broader network. We are trying to share the insights and data from these sessions and the broader community in order to help address some of the issues that women (and men) face in the investment industry.
“It’s incredibly important that we address gender inequality in investment firms and this is a great opportunity for us to bring about change, and broaden the discussion – giving both individuals and the group the confidence to act as change agents whether within their own firms or the broader industry.”

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