Is M&A still a male dominated industry? Back in its 2011 article, Reuters referred to M&A as a “man’s game”. They found that only 15% of executives and senior level managers in US investment banking and securities dealing industries were women. A 2011 survey found that 83% of female finance executives perceived the glass-ceiling to be a very real and prevalent factor preventing them from moving forward. Further there were a small number of women graduating from business schools choosing to enter the financing and accounting market – nearly half the number of the men in the recruitment process.

As of 2016, the representation of women in M&A was improving but still dubbed “sparse” by a Forbes report. The number of CEO positions on the Fortune 500 list rose from 2.2% in 2011 to 5% in 2016. The report found that there was no longer a shortage of women in entry level M&A positions, but the hurdle was in moving up the chain. In fact, 40% of first and second year M&A lawyers in the US were women, but only 15% represented senior equity partners.

A set of interviews recently published by Mergermarket regarding the evolving role of women in M&A shows that many of the factors that were identified back in 2009 as barriers for women to enter – and stay in – the M&A industry still hold true today: the classic STEM gender issue, concerns regarding work-life balance, lack of networking opportunities and role models, and conscious and unconscious biases.

Despite the unique challenges facing women in M&A, there continues to be progress.

The distinct characteristics of female players in the M&A domain are being recognized and celebrated. Collaboration, creativity, relationship-building and heightened emotional and social intelligence, are just a few attributes that set women apart at the negotiating table. In her interview with Mergermarket, Jennifer Muller, Managing Partner of Houlihan Lokey, discusses studies that have shown that “diversity improves performance because it makes people a bit uncomfortable which forces everyone to be on their game and perform their best.” A report by the Harvard Business Review emphasizes that companies with a higher number of women on their boards made fewer bids and paid less for acquisitions.

While the industry is still a long way from gender parity, the narrative about women in M&A is different now. Women are heading up M&A groups in the biggest investment banks in the world. Clients and investors are recognizing the value of diversity in viewpoints to solve problems and showcasing stories highlighting women who are attaining successes in the M&A field act as testimonials for females in the industry.

The author would like to thank Maha Mansour, articling student, for her assistance in preparing this legal update.

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