Private equity giant Blackstone struggled for years to recruit women because “they were scared of us,” the firm’s co-founder and chief executive Steve Schwarzman said Tuesday.
“Like many people in finance, we were having a lot of trouble hiring women, it was a male-dominated business and we made a decision to change that in 2015,” Schwarzman said at Saudi Arabia’s flagship investment conference, according to Bloomberg.
“We analyzed it and what we realized is that women weren’t applying to Blackstone. We tried to find out why and we found out that they were scared of us. I don’t think I’m very scary.”
Chairwoman of the Santander Group Ana Botin, the only woman among the eight panelists on stage, was quick to add that it’s intimidating to be “the only woman always surrounded by men,” Bloomberg noted.
Since 2015, Schwarzman said, Blackstone has made a concerted effort to change its culture and recruit more women. The firm has seen the proportion of women in its hiring cohorts rise to 50 percent, up from just 10 percent in 2015, he added.
“These things are really possible,” Schwarzman said on stage. “But you have to identify what the blockage is and go out and address it.”
Blackstone sought to increase its number of women applicants by recruiting at the university level and giving women more opportunities to try out the firm through, for example, internships, he added.
Blackstone attempted to tackle its shortfall of female applicants by speaking to university students and offering them the chance to experience working at the firm.
“We adapt the culture,” Schwarzman said.
“The culture was the same, the difference was that people didn’t understand what the culture was, so we brought sophomores down and what happened was they had a great time and we went back again and we kept recruiting all through it.”
Schwarzman’s comments come as the broader private equity industry, known for its rough-and-tumble, non-stop work environment, seeks to reform itself in favor of work-life balance and diversity initiatives.
The shift toward accommodating workers was accelerated during the pandemic, when executives feared a flight of talent amid burnout and surging workloads thanks to record deal-making.
Also on stage with Schwarzman was Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, Mubadala Investment CEO Khaldoon Al Mubarak, BlackRock chief Larry Fink, Bridgewater Associates founder Ray Dalio and African Rainbow Capital founder Patrice Motsepe.