No Diversity, No Deal – Helen Gillies, Partner at CMS

Whilst evidence suggests that gender diversity in the UK PE industry is increasing, it is clear that there is still a long way to go, as discussed in our Private Equity – DE&I in Focus report.

Sophie Randles, Livingston James Director  catches up with Helen Gillies of CMS  in the next instalment of our ‘No Diversity No Deal’ interview series, addressing diversity in the Scottish PE and VC sector.


What first attracted you to work in Private Equity (PE)/Deals community?

I spent 6 months as a trainee in the corporate team and I just loved the buzz of getting the deals done.  What I enjoy about my job is building the relationship with the founders or the investor from initial investment through to the exit, so that you really do feel part of the team as a trusted advisor.


How long have you been in your current role and what was your career path to get there?

I’ve been a partner for almost 10 years having trained at the firm and worked in the corporate/PE team since qualification.

I wasn’t particularly pushing myself forward as partnership material, but the firm actively encouraged me to have the confidence to go for it early on as a senior associate, and take advantage of an opportunity to build a practice.


How does your organisation promote diversity, particularly relating to women in the PE/Deals industry?

At CMS, we place diversity at the centre of our culture and at the heart of our organisation. Not only does it make our firm a more rewarding place to work, it also creates a stronger, more successful and sustainable business.

I don’t think anyone would disagree that making D&I a reality in the PE/Deals community is still a work in progress.  But what we do have is successful women Partners operating in the legal community, supporting each other to build on what we have achieved so far, and this gives me hope for what is to come.


Discussing diversity, what has worked in your organisation and how can it be developed?

Employee Networks:

Our employee networks are doing fantastic work in pushing the diversity agenda forward, providing a platform to raise awareness and to discuss relevant issues. A number of Partners across the firm support specific diversity strands, taking responsibility to drive the agenda internally.

The CMS Women’s Network has a global reach, spanning from local committees across all our UK locations to CEE and Asia. The network aims to inspire their members and support the development and retention of talented women throughout the business and at all levels within the firm by focusing on networking, relationship-building, career development and client-facing business development activities.

By doing so, they support the development and implementation of the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion strategy, and policies in areas that are relevant to women.


International Women’s Day Masterclass:

The International Women’s Day Masterclass involves speakers from several clients, and bringing together young female students from a lower SEB to raise aspirations.

Our Masterclasses bridge the gap between the classroom and the workplace by delivering key skills in networking and communication – essential no matter what career a young person decides to pursue. It is targeted at female students to inspire young women, while ensuring there are no barriers to participation, thus supporting the development and implementation of the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion strategy.


Role Models:

Networking Events – Our initiatives include panel discussions and networking events where female Partners speak about their route to seniority whilst balancing family life with their careers, and the advice they have for the women who are progressing their careers behind them.

Podcasts – CMS Women launched a podcast series speaking to inspirational female founders and leaders about the challenges they encountered along their careers and how their reactions to those challenges helped them build resilience.


Supporting Career Progression:

‘Understanding Imposter Syndrome’ – CMS Women hosted this informative webinar to discuss what imposter syndrome is, how to recognise the signs and symptoms, and how to access available support.

Career Development – To encourage the development of Associates, CMS Women ran a series of career progression training sessions, which included useful insights from those across UK offices who had recently been promoted.

‘Breaking Boundaries, Making Boundaries’ – CMS Women hosted this highly popular networking event on breaking and making boundaries, which included a panel discussion with representatives from Dubai Eye, Huda Beauty, and Mindful ME.


How can diversity be developed:

Diversity brings together people from different backgrounds and experiences into CMS and helps create an environment where everyone can feel valued, ensuring that we build on our differences for the benefit of both individuals and our firm. To further develop our diversity strategy, we will continue to focus on the following areas:

  • Enhancing the visibility of senior women at CMS, with the aim of connecting senior women with more junior women, and connecting senior women with one another.
  • Fostering an intersectional network by (i) ensuring the committee comprises persons from both fee-earning and business services roles and covers every practice group; (ii) ensuring that at least 50% of the events/initiatives championed are delivered in collaboration with another CMS employee network; (iii) hosting external events alongside other employee networks; and (iv) ensuring that events are inclusive of all members of the firm whether fee-earning or business services.
  • Exploring the impact CMS Women may have externally, by (i) identifying campaigns that affect women and that CMS Women can support with a CMS charity partner; (ii) hosting further external events or initiatives with external partners, and (iii) focusing on helping/inspiring those outside the firm and those at the beginning of their careers.


What value can be created from having a diverse workforce?

As employers, we have the opportunity and responsibility to shape a workplace that is diverse and inclusive, respecting and celebrating all types of diversity. The way we decide to drive our business has a huge impact on individuals but can also help to influence society at large.

We recognise that a diverse workplace, which combines employees from different backgrounds, ethnicity, and experiences, creates a more productive environment, increases creativity among our teams, and drives innovation. In a constantly, increasingly competitive economy where skills and talents are crucial to improving productivity, diversity of thought is necessary to succeed in the market.


What advice would you give to other women interested in a career in Private Equity?

To go for it, and not to focus on any perceived limitations.


To find out more about our No Diversity, No Deal series; or for a confidential discussion about your PE and VC executive search requirements, contact [email protected].

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