Shifting gender gears is more than cupcakes and quotas

When it comes to leadership positions and decision making, men remain in the driver’s seat. 

And in the private capital sector, it’s no different.  

So why is representation of women in senior roles such a big deal?

It’s a ripple effect. A lack of women in senior roles, including senior investment decision roles, means that key decisions, diverse perspectives and access to influential networks for up-and-coming women are missing. It’s a cycle that continues to perpetuate through an opaque system.  


As the holder of 72% of domestic duties including primary caregiving, it’s no wonder many women have no choice but to self-select out of the workforce. Even in 2024, women are missing out on the next promotion, the next big opportunity, or the funding needed to make the next big idea a reality. The problem is complex. And there’s data to show it.  

According to a Deloitte Access Economics report on Accelerating Women Founders, only 27 per cent of junior roles in investment firms were held by women in 2022, and only 11 per cent at a senior role level.  

So why does this matter, outside the obvious? Inequality holds all of us back. Diverse backgrounds unlock new perspectives and drive innovation with research increasingly demonstrating that diversity in teams leads to improved business performance.  

Tackling this ugly truth requires us to evaluate how we hire, develop, nurture, accommodate and promote our people. To retain women in the workplace we need to create an inclusive system that places the diverse needs of all of its people at the centre.  

While this is an issue that affects women in most industries, it is particularly acute for women entrepreneurs aspiring to attract institutional investors. Women founders simply do not have the same access to the capital they need to unlock the growth potential of their businesses.  

As Australia’s fit-for-purpose growth capital fund dedicated to the small-to-medium enterprise sector, ABGF is addressing these challenges head-on. Whether that be through the composition of its leadership group, broader employee base, portfolio companies, the inclusive design of flexible work practices, and the objective ways we evaluate team performance and investment opportunities, women have equal representation at every level of decision making within the fund, with no exceptions.  

When ABGF was the recipient of the Australian Investment Council’s Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion Award in 2023, it didn’t mean a target or initiative was suddenly reached. Rather a path had been recognised, shining a light onto a sector that has for far too long under-represented women.


Despite the odds, women entrepreneurs continue to forge ahead, establishing successful businesses that are gaining global momentum. Maria Enna-Cocciolone is the founder and CEO of Australia’s only vertically integrated professional skincare company, INSKIN COSMEDICS 

Biases have been part and parcel of Maria’s journey but were most apparent when seeking to secure equity funding for her company.  

“I always say I failed successfully when we first looked for an institutional investor,” she recounts. “From the inception of INSKIN, I have led from my heart and made decisions intuitively. In our first investor meetings, I quickly realised that this approach isn’t well received by investors who are primarily numbers-oriented.” 

“Despite my passion, I was met with scepticism from those who didn’t speak my language, share my values, or take the time to understand my vision for my company.” 

“Most spoke down to me about an industry I am an expert in. After these meetings, while I often left feeling undermined and patronised, I also left with a stronger conviction about the type of investor I wanted to partner with.” 

“For me, securing funding wasn’t just about finance but about building a collaborative partnership based on mutual respect, trust, and shared values. As we met with representatives from ABGF, I felt like I was finally being heard. I could genuinely be me, be transparent, and talk about what I wanted to fight for. They were genuinely listening. They never made me feel better or worse when I shared these truths with them. They got me.” 

Maria’s experience echoes the struggles of countless women founders who are looking to attract investment.


For every success story, countless others never make it.  

“We all naturally bond more with people who have similar attributes to us – and investors are no different,” explains Ghazaleh Lyari, Co-Head of Investments at ABGF.   

What Lyari is referring to is ‘pattern matching’ when we learn lessons from past experiences that we subconsciously apply to future decisions. The upside is it enables an individual to make faster decisions based on learnings from the past, the negative is that it can readily lead to biases.  

“As investors, we see hundreds of companies every year and draw on patterns that have proven successful for future decisions. Most investors don’t have sufficient reference points for female entrepreneurs and women-led businesses with a successful track record. That lack of reference leads to those businesses often being considered ‘riskier’.”  

“For female founders, securing funding is not solely a matter of merit but also of navigating a system saturated with unconscious bias. This bias pervades decision-making and has meaningful implications for allocation of capital and ultimately success of female-led businesses.” 

You don’t have to look far to see how the anecdotal experience is backed up by data. In FY22, solely women-founded businesses represented only 9% of total deal flow, and only 0.7% of total capital raised. This tells us that even when solely women-founded businesses are successful in raising capital, the value raised is much smaller compared to non-women-founded businesses.  

Until these numbers improve, we will continue to see many brilliant ideas and businesses stagnate, unable to reach their full potential.


To overcome the challenges women face when building a business or career, we need to work together to address the root causes of systemic gender inequity. Creating more flexible and inclusive work practices for women to be successful is just the beginning.   

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ABGF Anthony Healy understands this and is committed to a more diverse future where women can thrive.  

“It is increasingly accepted that the performance of a company is directly tied to the diversity of its team members, so there should be no excuse not to prioritise this, particularly at senior levels.” 

“Creating an environment where everyone can thrive and is respected needs to come from the top down. At ABGF, we’re leading the charge with a diverse team and a commitment to inclusion and flexibility.” 

Bringing about change is never easy. It requires challenging and rebuilding a system run by those who benefit most from it. So, what can we do?  

Introduce targets that hold investment firms accountable through tangible change.  Instead of relying solely on traditional metrics, those who allocate capital to investment funds could consider targets such as the diversity of the fund’s senior investment team and the diversity of the management teams within the fund’s portfolio companies. 

Make the investment industry stickier for women. We need more women role models — both in leadership positions and as founders. With more senior women investors and greater diversity within the investment community, we can expect to see an increase in the backing of female-founded businesses. Implementing inclusive and flexible policies (gender-neutral parental leave policies, and objective and transparent promotion policies are key examples), challenging unconscious bias, and fostering supportive networks, will ensure more women remain and progress in the private equity sector.  

ABGF will celebrate International Women’s Day not through cupcakes and discussing quotas, but through continuing to advocate for more diversity and meaningful action within the investment community. We have a responsibility to use our platform for change, and we take this responsibility seriously. 

Women, everywhere, in every sector deserve more than just a day to have this conversation and be told things will change. This is our work now and every day, until we reach gender equity. 

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