Blackstone’s $3 billion investment in Bumble paid off spectacularly last month when the online dating company went public and shares surged 64%. Bumble is now valued at about $13 billion.

There’s more to this story for private equity firms to consider than a single red-hot IPO.

Bumble jumped in late to the crowded online dating marketplace with a unique idea: Founder Whitney Wolfe Herd created a dating site that gives women the power to initiate contact with men. Why, she wondered, had Tinder and other sites not obliterated the antiquated dating tradition of women waiting for men to approach?

“I was tired of waiting for this change to happen, or for permission to make the first move,” she wrote.

This frustration should be shared by leaders of all private equity firms about their own male-dominated workplaces. Women shouldn’t have to wait for an invitation to join the industry.

Women are severely underrepresented, and it’s past time to fix this fundamental and costly failure.

Research firm Preqin says just 17.9% of private equity employees worldwide are women. That’s the lowest figure of any alternative investment industry (hedge funds, venture capital, etc.). Fewer than 10% of leadership roles at PE firms are occupied by women. That’s an embarrassment.

There’s a long-overdue reckoning underway in the business world as employers recognize their responsibility to hire and cultivate diverse workforces. CEOs are being pushed by workers, investors, and, in some cases, legislators, to commit to diversity, but these are failings that should be addressed without the need for external pressure.

Private equity needs more women in the room not only because it is the equitable thing to do, but because it’s good for business.

Research on emerging markets from the International Finance Corporation found that gender-balanced investment teams achieved rates of return 20% above average. A Peterson Institute for International Economics study found that shifting from having no women in corporate leadership to a 30% share is associated with a 15% increase in profitability.

The reason is that bringing more women into leadership positions diversifies both skill sets and life experiences, lessening group-think. That increases the chances someone will see an investment opportunity or customer need when others don’t.

That’s the essence of Bumble’s growth because Whitney Wolfe recognized women were poorly served by other dating apps. How many other blockbuster business ideas get overlooked because men do most of the dealmaking?

We get some idea from a Kauffman Fellows Research Center report that found women at venture capital firms invest in twice as many female-founded startups as their male counterparts at the earliest stage of company development.

The Kauffman Center researchers speculated that female investors brought to bear different personal experiences than male investors, which helped them identify overlooked problems and understand their potential market size.

I’ve noticed other differences in the management style of women and men in private equity that make for stronger teams. I’ve seen women look beyond financial models and spreadsheets for critical qualitative information when men didn’t. Often it is my female clients who dive into the conversations we have with the acquisition target; read the transcripts of every single interview, and pay special attention to our conversations with the acquisition target’s customers.

Thus, women often did a more thorough job of assessing businesses than their male counterparts, and that’s why gender-balanced teams outperform.

What Herd recognized about dating and Blackstone saw in Bumble is what all executives in private equity should grasp: When it comes to assessing risk and reward in relationships, women are equal to men.


Anthony Bahr is Managing Director of our Customer Due Diligence practice. When he's not advising private equity clients on customer risk, he guest lectures on consumer behavior and research methodologies at Cornell University, Loyola University Chicago, and the University of Pennsylvania.

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