Amid constant debate on the skewed proportion of women across the industry, including PE/VC, Malaysia’s Cradle Seed Ventures CEO Dzuleira Abu Bakar stands by the belief that it is always better to have diversity in an organisation. She believes that the basic difference between men and women could rather bring more diversity in perspectives and thought process for decision-making.
As an investment professional with over 12 years in the industry, Dzuleira feels that the perception that these sectors are male-dominated could be a possible cause for women shying away from entering the industry. “It is also a function of traditional gender roles when it comes to selecting career,” she told DEALSTREETASIA in a recent interaction.
A successful woman herself in a largely male-dominated industry, Dzuleira has expertise in venture capital and private equity investment, corporate finance, legal, deal structuring and stakeholder management. Prior to joining Cradle Seed Ventures, she was vice president of investment with Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd, where she was responsible to identify and invest in high growth technology and digital companies, as well as managed strategic partnerships, corporate relations, and stakeholder management for the firm.
Other past positions include Usaha Tegas Management where she oversaw the group’s fund of funds and private equity business, Maybank Investment Bank‘s equity capital market department, as well as Khazanah Nasional’s foundation, Yayasan Hasanah.
Why do we have lesser women in the VC/PE industry?
I think it’s important to understand the nature of VC and PE. Generally, VC tends to focus more on early stage companies with an emphasis on technology industry, whereas PE tends to be sector agnostic focusing on mature companies. So it is really about two general areas here – technology and finance. Having said that, absence of women role in decision-making is common to both. The common perception that these areas are male dominated is what is stopping women from joining the industry. It is also a function of traditional gender roles when it comes to selecting a career. Again all these are mere perception and are not real impediments. However, women must be made aware of the industry, and that they can thrive being a part of it. I would also like to state here that in Malaysia there is a fair representation of women at senior positions, and the statistics are very encouraging.
What are the challenges that women in PE/VC face in general? Highlight the ones specific to Malaysia.
There are challenges specific to this industry, but that’s true for any industry. Factors such as male dominance, long hours away from family, etc, are common perceived impediments for women willing to work in most industries. But above and beyond that to be specific is the fear of the unknown stemming lack of exposure and awareness of the VC/PE industry. These challenges are common to Malaysia too, but what is encouraging in the region is that the ecosystem has witnessed tremendous progress in recognizing and promoting the need for diversity.
What factors are discouraging women to join PE/VC industry in Malaysia?
VC/PE is a full time job. It’s a lifestyle. It requires thinking and working beyond usual working hours. It requires spending a lot of time with the companies you invest in, as well the industry as a whole. Basically, it entails tonnes of industry socialising. And depending on which geography you cover, a lot of travelling. Frankly, it requires a lot of commitment to work, which may take away focus from family. Not having the right partner/support system can make life hard for women looking to balance both family and a career in VC/PE.
How important is it to have a diverse workforce in both the startups and the PE/VC industry?
Prioritizing diversity in hiring isn’t just about being politically correct or getting good PR; it has benefits that can give businesses a competitive edge. There are many reports that conclude gender diversity makes companies perform better – views from diverse background be it gender, racial or ethnically paves way for better innovation. This applies to across industries.
What impact can we see in PE/VC or the startups’ space with more women taking part in decision-making, and for PEs, the companies they invest in?
I think we can all agree that by nature men and women are built differently. But as I mentioned earlier, there must be a realization that these differences are actually complementary in nature. Accordingly, having more women at decision-making tables brings with it a more diverse perspective and way of thinking. I’m sure we can all agree that such diversity in thought will lead to better considerations in the decision making process and benefit an industry.
How can we encourage more women to join the PE/VC industry, and change mindset of both the genders?
In general, men need to be embrace the fact that women are as capable, and accordingly be more supportive. Likewise, at workplace there must be an acknowledgement of what gender diversity brings to table. Women too need to realize that they are as capable and they shouldn’t limit themselves to the traditional occupations. Of course, media (like yours) plays an important role in highlighting the thoughts to create increased awareness.
Is there a glass ceiling for women in this sector?
I personally do not think so, but somehow, it is often perceived so.