RHL Ventures‘ co-founder Rachel Lau, is candid in admitting that her journey in the VC/PE industry has been a rather good one. At the same time, she acknowledges that finance in general as this sector is skewed towards masculinity. One is often negotiating deal terms and be tough on one’s feet, she says.
Lau, also serves on the Leadership Team of the Hong Kong chapter of Ellevate (formerly 85 Broads), a 34,000-member global network of professional women; and sits on the Program Committee of EMpower, a not-for-profit organization that supports at at risks youths in developing countries.
Having spent many years in the investment industry, Lau supports having more women in senior positions. “I wouldn’t necessarily advocate quotas, but I can see why it might be helpful. Education and discussions help. Having more women role models help. You do get more inspired by people you can relate to,” she told DEALSTREETASIA in a recent interaction.
In fact, having worked in the US and Asia, she feels that compared with the west, there are more benefits being a female in Asia given the advantage of help in terms of parents, helpers, and others.
Her investment philosophy: Where possible, look to invest in high-quality businesses at a price that is not reflective of the intrinsic value of the business as it is. Edited excerpts:
Not many women are a part of the VC/PE industry. Why?
It is not a just a VC/PE thing, it’s the case with the financial markets in general. I am on the Leadership of Ellevate and we see less women employees across all verticals of finance, predominantly front office and client facing roles: fund managers, investment bankers and others. The most consistent reason that we have heard of for this is the lack of support to continue in the industry and natural disadvantages. For eg, if your boss knew you were going to get married and have a kid, you are likely to be passed on for a promotion since you will be generally out of the market for a couple of months when you have a child. The other thing is the number of hours you have to put in finance: hours are odd and you have to continuously be on the plane. Not ideal if you have a family.
What are some challenges facing women in PE/VC industry in general? Specify the ones unique to Malaysia?
Some of the challenges are the ones I just outlined. I have never worked in Malaysia, so I honestly do not know. The industry is more skewed towards masculinity since you are often negotiating deal terms, and having to be tough on your feet. In general, women are often thought of less dynamic, indecisive… there is normally a boys club and that doesn’t help. You don’t share the same topics for conversations– golf, football, drinking, etc.
What are serious impediments for women looking to join PE/VC industry in the region?
There is a difference in the markets in the US and Asia where I have worked. Oddly enough, there are more benefits being a female in Asia versus the US given the availability of help (parents, parents in law, helpers, etc). China’s one child policy too turned out to be a playing field for Chinese women. If you have only one kid, you dedicate all resources towards that child, and if you look at the labour force, I feel Chinese women are most successful in terms of gender equality.
What do you think is the importance/significance of having a diverse workforce for both startups and the PE/VC industry?
Quoting my partner Lionel (Lionel Leong), women are more meticulous and while they do take a little longer to hand in their work, the quality of work is superior and often backed up with more statistics and evidence.
What do you think will be the impact of more women in decision-making positions in PE/VC on the whole startup ecosystem and for PEs on the companies they invest in or fund?
Diversity is always good. Be it in gender, race, or background. It helps in covering the potential blind spots. Different opinions result in more discussions.
Suggest steps to encourage more women to join PE/VC industry?
More promotions are needed to promote women to senior positions. This was a good article on what the Reserve Bank of Australia is doing and I think its a timely article. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate quotas, but I can see why it might be helpful. Education and discussions helps. Having more women role models help. You do get more inspire by people you can relate to.
Is there a glass ceiling for women in this sector?
There is one in finance in general.