Blazing a Trail for Women in Private Equity

Silhouette of a woman raising her fist against an orange backdrop

Livingston James’ Head of Private Equity and Professional Services, Sophie Randles, shines a light on the women who blazed a trail in Private Equity, and discusses the impact on diversity in the sector.

Serena Williams recently announced her retirement from tennis, sharing her intentions to now focus on her venture capital firm, Serena Ventures. Founded eight years ago, the firm has invested in over 60 companies ranging from fintech to edtech.

Williams is widely regarded as a leader in her field. With 23 Grand Slam titles to her name, she has smashed expectations of women in tennis. Her name often crops up when discussing those who have paved the way for women to succeed in sport.

Given her imminent move to venture capital, it is, therefore, prudent to ask who created the space for Williams to take on this exciting new challenge. Who are the women that broke the glass ceiling in private equity?

While the fight for diversity in private equity rages on, the gap is slowly but surely beginning to close in the male-dominated profession. In 2018, women held 10% of senior positions in Private Equity. This number had increased by 2.7% in 2021. Clearly, there is still work to be done. However, there are a number of women who have acted as pioneers for females looking to engage in this industry:


Geraldine Weiss

After being informed she was best suited to secretarial work, Weiss established herself as a trailblazer in the industry through the creation of her investment newsletter. Known as the “Dame of Dividends”, she devised a new investment strategy – she focused on a company’s dividends as opposed to their earnings.

By theorising that there was a direct link between a company’s dividend capabilities and the strength of their performance on the stock market, she became one of the most successful female investors to date.


Abigail Johnson

Abigail Johnson is the current CEO of Fidelity Investments and has served as its Chair since 2016. Johnson owns an estimated 24.6% of the business which boasts $4.2trillion in managed assets.

Founded by her grandfather in 1946, she took over as CEO in 2014. Her ambition is to make investing as accessible as possible, with a particular focus on engaging young, female investors. Having worked in the business for 26 years, Johnson learned the ropes of investment from the ground up and now actively seeks and creates opportunities to allow women to follow in her footsteps.


Mellody Hobson

Mellody Hobson is the highly accomplished President and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, a firm with $13 billion in assets and one of the largest African-American-owned mutual fund companies in the USA.

Upon her graduation from Princeton, she started with the company as an intern, working her way up the ranks over the years to reach the Leadership role she now holds. In 2015, Times Magazine named her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world and in 2020, Forbes listed her as 94th in their list of the 100 Most Powerful Women.


Jennifer Hoh

With an MBA from Harvard Business School, Jennifer Hoh is a Managing Director on the Investment team at Providence Equity Partners. Hoh is currently the Director of 365 Retail Markets and Worldwide Express. In 2021, Hoh was named on the Wall Street Journal’s list of Women to Watch in Private Equity.

One of the ways in which she looks to increase diversity in the industry is through her role on Providence’s Women’s Roundtable. Through this, she acts as a mentor to younger employees of the firm, helping to boost the presence of women in PE.

Deborah Farrington

Not only a woman of note in the investment sphere, Deborah Farrington is also regarded as a pioneer in the tech world.

Farrington founded StarVest, one of the largest female-majority-owned venture capital businesses to date. The Foreign Policy Association awarded her a Medal for Achievement in Financial Services in 2018 as a result of her contribution to PE. Furthermore, Farrington has co-chaired the New York Women’s Leadership Accelerator and has endowed a “Fellowship for Women Entrepreneurs” at Harvard Business School.


Sophie runs Livingston James’ ‘No Diversity, No Deal’ event series, addressing the challenges facing women in Private Equity.  To find out more about these events, or to discuss your private equity or venture capital executive search requirements contact [email protected]


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