The M&A sector – gender diversity is becoming the new norm

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The image of the M&A world is often different from the day-to-day realities. If we are to believe (some) series on Netflix, we will see that it is still a classic men's club, where men with big egos call the shots. However, that’s a huge contrast to the M&A industry as we know it. Because it’s not just about making money fast, and the field is certainly no longer reserved for men only. So what is it really like? We asked two experienced women in the M&A world to share their insights.

Unknown makes unloved?

Merel Smink is 28 and has been working as an M&A specialist at Marktlink for four years now. She is only one of nine female M&A specialists in a team of 180 people. Because of her experience from working at Marktlink, she doesn’t see the M&A sphere as an old-fashioned man’s world. “I think the lack of women can more likely be explained with that popular Dutch saying: ‘unknown makes unloved’.  Which means that you don’t know what you are missing out on if you have never heard of it before. For whatever reason, women seem less likely to delve into M&A.” At first, that was the case for her too.

Before Merel joined Marktlink, she studied at the Hotel School at Saxion. “It was an excellent place to train, and you definitely learn what it means to provide a service. It’s very useful in my current job.” After her studies, Merel certainly wasn’t interested in M&A specifically. Her interest arose after she was approached about working in M&A. “It hadn’t even occurred to me that the world of acquisitions would be an option for me. So I started to look into it. During my interview I started to feel really enthusiastic about M&A and Marktlink’s vision.”

The perfect mix of finance, business and service

As far as Merel is concerned, the current M&A world is far from being the men’s stronghold it was 10 or 15 years ago. That image no longer corresponds with  the current situation. “If the portrayed image of the M&A world were to be adjusted to what the reality actually is, then maybe more women would spontaneously think about joining the industry?” Merel asks herself.

The work involved with M&A practice has a bit of everything for people (men and women) who find finance interesting and are passionate about business and providing high-quality service. “Yes, it is performance oriented, but I like to go the extra mile to ensure that a company is acquired by the right party. For many entrepreneurs, their companies are their life’s work.”

That being said, Merel also sees that it’s not just about performance. At Marktlink, people are motivated to take it easier during calmer periods (which do, in fact, exist). “That’s how you maintain a balance,” says Merel. “There are times when it’s busy and we have a lot to do, but at other times there’s plenty of breathing space to do things other than just work.”

Maternity leave, paternity leave and a bonus?

But what happens if you are pregnant and go on maternity leave in the middle of an acquisition? Merel has thought about this too. “Of course, pregnancy and maternity leave are difficult to time. Making sure you coordinate well with customers and colleagues is certainly important, but I think that applies to many jobs in many sectors.”

The HR team believes in developing policies together with the concerning colleagues. A policy where the manager or partner can go on maternity leave without worries. This way, a career within M&A as a woman offers many opportunities. The Marktlink HR team is currently working on a policy that offers benefits to both the person on leave and her replacement. The bonus is shared , without either of them losing out on income. Contract hours will also be considered. And, of course, this also applies to male colleagues.

“Balance is what we find very important”, says Petra Wijnholds, International Talent Acquisition Manager bij Marktlink. We have introduced unlimited vacation days, based on output and freedom. We also provide access to a platform where employees can anonymously ask both work- and private-related questions." 

"Recruiting M&A talent can be a challenge. Especially because there are wrong assumptions about the industry. I think every M&A organisation should be aware of that. If you want to give everyone an equal chance as well as retaining talent, you absolutely have to keep facilitating employment conditions. Not only for women, but also for men who want to take parental leave. This was perhaps not common in the M&A world of the past, but nowadays parental leave for both mothers and fathers is quite normal."

Quotas and stigma

Neither Petra nor Merel feels that, as women, they have – or should have – a special position in the M&A world. They just do their job – just like everybody else. “More gender diversity would be better, of course, because then you have a team that is a more accurate reflection of society,” says Petra. Merel agrees: “It’s also nice for our customers, because they have even more choice in terms of finding an M&A specialist who suits them best.”

But how can you make sure that more women discover M&A? Merel believes that one of the most important ways is to tackle the stigma that surrounds the world of acquisitions. “We can showcase just how interesting our work is. Once we do that, the people that we need – women and men – will come to us themselves.”

Petra also believes that the portrayed image around M&A does not yet fully correspond to the reality. “But I don’t think it’s necessary to set a quota for women. Although I’m very happy to support female applicants and I’m really pleased to be able to do that, it always comes down to the talent. It’s about finding the right person for the right job; and we will also look to see if we can offer the most suitable career path. We select everyone based on their partner potential, meaning that we can offer everyone the same opportunities.”

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