Roc Partners’ Investment Director Anna Ellis has seen first-hand at Roc Partners how industry leaders in private capital can embrace gender diversity through their own behaviour and the subsequent positive business impact.
“When senior leaders role model good behaviours and call out gender-based actions that exclude or disadvantage individuals when they see it, it has a significant impact on driving change.”
With over 15 years in private capital, Anna attributes her career success to what she calls ‘staying close to the deal’, which has literal and metaphorical connotations. It’s an approach others could emulate, especially younger practitioners wanting to differentiate themselves in a competitive field.
“There are lots of ways you can stay close to the deal. This doesn’t have to mean an actual deal, it is about remaining relevant to the big decisions being made and taking responsibility and initiative early, even at the junior levels.” Additionally, it doesn’t necessarily mean being in the office around the clock, there are ways to remain at the pointy end of a transaction while working remotely.
The value of continual learning
As for her career trajectory, Anna completed a commerce law degree, which she recommends as a great foundation for any career, ranging from owning your own business to private capital.
After her double degree, she went on to become a chartered accountant, before attaining an executive MBA and earning her AICD designation. She says pursuing continual learning delivers benefits beyond book smarts.
“Studying teaches you to be disciplined and focused. It also stops you getting stale and exposes you to people and perspectives from outside your own industry. It’s made me a better person, executive and leader.”
Anna has important insights for emerging private markets leaders.
The first is to realise the power of your network. This means investing in other people and making time to catch up. She also recommends getting used to cold calling.
“One of my former CEOs had me do cold calls early in my career and now I enjoy it. Having an ability to reach out to other people is so powerful.”
She notes every interaction has meaning beyond the face value reason for the contact. So, it’s an idea to think broadly about the significance of any business exchange.
The diversity laws of attraction
Turning to the power of diversity in capital markets, Anna says a key principle is like attracts like. Creating an environment in which diversity truly thrives begets a genuinely diverse workforce and better business outcomes.
“Gender diverse teams can generate better results for their businesses.”
Effecting this starts with ensuring an equal number of men and women are considered for vacant roles, something leaders can mandate in recruitment processes. Recruitment aside, she believes the senior executive team plays a critical role in diversity and inclusion.
“They have an opportunity to model really great behaviours and not just talk about them, for example taking calls from home from time to time and not always working until late in the office.”
As the Australian Investment Council’s 2020 report Women in the Australian private capital industry suggests, it can be tricky for firms to retain females in the junior and middle ranks, especially when they have competing commitments such as a family. To address this, Anna suggests firms make what she terms ‘strategic interventions’ to support people coming back from parental leave to work to their full potential.
“It’s about small things such as when meeting times are scheduled and behaving in an inclusive way. I had a great experience coming back to work because of this.”
Anna advocates for the broader benefit of looking beyond direct industry experience when recruiting for senior female roles, saying “by considering the skills obtained from related industries including leadership capabilities, businesses could widen their talent pool and as a result create industry-wide benefits over time.”