Increase in diverse-owned firms ‘frustratingly slow’

A new report shows the number of women-owned funds raised in 2017 is less than 3 percentage points higher than in 2006, and for minority-owned funds the increase is even narrower.

The number of diverse-owned private equity firms is increasing at a glacial pace, a new report from the Knight Foundation has found.

The study finds that out of 2,814 firms, 146 are women-owned and 106 are minority-owned, representing 5.2 percent and 3.8 percent of all included firms.

In 2006 women-owned funds accounted for just over 4 percent of funds raised; in 2017, that had increased just 2.8 percentage points to 6.8 percent. It was a similar story for minority-owned funds, with an increase from 3.5 percent to 5.4 percent over the same period.

While there is an increasing awareness of lack of diversity across the industry, complete change isn’t coming soon, said Josh Lerner, head of the entrepreneurial management unit and the Jacob H Schiff professor of investment banking at Harvard Business School, who co-authored the report.

“It seems that this is an area where, as much as I think there are both an increased supply of diverse managers who would be great owners of firms and an increase on the part of the limited partner community to look at this, it’s still likely to be a process of frustratingly slow change,” Lerner told sister publication pfm.

The study found little difference in the performance of diverse-owned and non-diverse-owned funds. Comparing the performance of US-based private equity funds, excluding funds of funds, from 2006 through 2017, the study found non-diverse funds had a net multiple of 1.42, while women-owned and minority-owned funds had net multiples of 1.37 and 1.44, respectively.

Despite this, the report suggests diverse-owned firms have fewer limited partners from key institutional investor groups, such as public pension funds, private pension funds, funds of funds, insurance companies and foundations and endowments.

One reason Lerner believes this is the case after conducting this study is that pension funds and other investors are less likely to invest in diverse funds due to their size.

“I think we all know that many pension funds and other institutions are very aware of this issue of under-representation of minorities and women in upper management and want to change that. But there’s also a countering trend, which is there’s been a lot of pressure within many of these pension funds and others to concentrate their capital in fewer organisations,” he said.

Pension funds that had invested in funds across a large number of fund managers in the past found it “too difficult to manage and they had too many relationships going on,” making it harder to track their investments.

Some investors are putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to championing diversity. In June, sister title Infrastructure Investor reported that a lack of workplace diversity had caused Blackstone Group and Brookfield Asset Management to be passed up for a $50 million infrastructure allocation by the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, which has $10.8 billion in assets under management.