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Commit to women in business

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By Elizabeth Lewis

· 4 min read

The editorial is sponsored by Blackstone, respecting illuminem's community guidelines.

Before ESG became mainstream, I was used to attending private equity events and being among a small minority of women present. Thankfully, now we are far more numerous. From my own life, I know how important it is for women to see other women leading, and I was fortunate to see women leading at senior levels in organizations all of my life.

I am especially lucky to have had a great role model in my mother, a senior university administrator managing a large department whose success was critical to the university and who often worked extremely long hours. While my father had more flexibility in his schedule, he too had a demanding job – but they worked together in partnership, supporting each other in careers that have been callings for both. I understood that my mother loved her job and that her work allowed her to make a difference in the lives of others. I was also raised from an early age to see that women could have top careers in technology. I watched my father, a professor, champion the recruitment of undergraduate women into computer science as undergraduates and support them in their professional careers. I am grateful for the example that they both set: that with dedication and passion one can have a thriving career, even in industries historically dominated by men.

Today, I feel lucky to work at a company that has created a powerful network effect by investing in women leaders both outside the firm and within it. This commitment is an important part of our ESG priorities, but it’s more importantly a priority for any company that wants to be a leader.

The business imperative for supporting and investing in women is clear. That’s why, at Blackstone, we focus on hiring more women investors and set a target of at least one-third diverse representation on new controlled portfolio company boards in the U.S. and Europe. Having women at the table means we approach challenges differently and see opportunities we otherwise might have missed. Just recently, for example, we invested in SPANX and Supergoop!, following investments in Hello Sunshine, the mission-driven media company founded by Reese Witherspoon that puts women at the center of every story it creates, and Bumble, the online dating app where women make the first move, founded by Whitney Wolfe Herd. We also have invested in several women-led technology businesses such as, Articulate and Ellucian.

Our investments in women-founded businesses have created an exciting network effect. Having more diversity on our team and within our portfolio is attracting more and more great women entrepreneurs. This LinkedIn post from the founder of GeoComply says it best: “The inimitable Whitney Wolfe Herd also provided tremendous insight to me: to hear about Blackstone’s first-rate support for her as a female founder was deeply encouraging and absolutely factored into our decision.”

We strive to increase the number of women and to diversify our group of investors at Blackstone, which enables us to spot additional opportunities to invest in women-led companies. The Blackstone Women’s Initiative drives innovative programs focused on developing women to their full potential, fostering connectivity across businesses, encouraging mentorship and helping shape our recruiting strategy. Between 2014 and 2021, we doubled the number of women in our global analyst class. We also have powerful programs focused on developing leaders across the firm – the Future Women Leaders and Future Women Innovators Programs expose interested students to the finance and technology industries, respectively, through annual two-day events.

At the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, we support women and historically underrepresented groups of students through LaunchPad, our signature student entrepreneurship program. Nearly 100 women-led startups were just selected for our summer fellowship program.

In our industry, there is exciting momentum when it comes to women in ESG – at Blackstone, our entire corporate team happens to be comprised of women today! My peers and I wonder whether ESG might even be a pipeline for women to enter the finance industry in higher numbers than they have historically entered finance.

Editor's note: This essay is a sneak peak at a series of posts illuminem is developing for the Global ESG Alliance. Additionally, Elizabeth Lewis will be a featured speaker at illuminem's upcoming webinar on July 19, 2022: "Strategic use of ESG non-financial data". Register HERE.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Energy & Sustainability writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Elizabeth Lewis is a Managing Director and Deputy Head of ESG, supporting Blackstone's corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts. She formely led engagement with investors, NGOs, governments, and other stakeholders on climate change and diversity for the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Prior to IFC, Ms. Lewis was a Partner and Director of Strategy & Business Development for Terra Alpha Investments, and Head of Sustainable Investing at the World Resources Institute (leading the establishment of the WRI's Sustainable Investing Program).

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