It is no secret the financial sector has had its diversity practices put into question. Female founders and chief executives of firms were formally few and far between. Change needed to happen.

The latest edition of the Gender Equality Global Report & Ranking by Equileap, a specialized data provider using gender metrics, provides the current picture on equality in businesses across the world in a variety of sectors. It highlights that gender equality is “gradually improving in the workplace” since the firm’s first annual report in 2017. Despite the financial sector achieving the lowest score overall, it is the most represented sector in Equileap’s top 100 ranking of companies, with the best gender equality practices, with 25 organizations featured.

Despite these efforts, the report emphasizes that gender balance in the workplace is far from being achieved, with just 10 companies globally achieving a balance at all levels, which the report specifies as board, executive, senior management and workforce. Nevertheless, hard line efforts are proliferating. Private equity giant Blackstone, as an obvious example, last year proclaimed that the boards of all companies in which it invests must have at least a third of its directors from diverse backgrounds, a group which included women.

These figures serve as a reminder of the progress still to be made in addition to what is already in motion. And PEI Media’s Women of Influence initiative serves as a reminder this industry is abound with inspiring women who are and will be driving this. In addition to celebrating the great achievements of women in their respective fields, the Women of Influence also identifies those female leaders who can be accredited with driving the much needed change for their industries.


Adrienne Saunders

Many of the nominees from non-real estate disciplines included those who champion diversity initiatives in their fields while delivering exceptional results for their businesses.
One such example from the infrastructure sector is Adrienne Saunders, senior managing director at infrastructure firm Stonepeak who also serves as the general counsel and chief compliance officer of the firm.

In charge of an 11-member legal and compliance team with more than 80 percent diversity representation, Saunders led the legal structuring, negotiation and closing of $12.5 billion of capital commitments across multiple Stonepeak funds and related co-investments over the past 12 months. Described as a “strong internal champion for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives,” Saunders launched the women’s network at Stonepeak and is the co-leader of their DE&I program.

Also from infrastructure is global head of investments at Allianz Global Investors Deborah Zurkow. She is chair of the Young Women in Finance Scholarship program, which trains young women in the basics of finance and financial modelling. This is alongside several career accolades, such as leading a team that pioneered infrastructure debt as an asset class and which has invested more than €17 billion in a variety of sectors to become one of the largest globally.

Over the past year, Zurkow’s achievements included the launch of the Allianz Global Diversified Infrastructure fund reaching over €1 billion in commitments and a growing trade finance offering which reflects Zurkow’s “drive to find alternative risk/return profiles for clients,” her nominator says.

Teresa Farmaki

Relevant to all the private sectors featured is Teresa Farmaki, co-founder and managing partner of London-based Astarte Capital Partners, who has seen her firm innovate many features within the private equity and real assets space. Using her 20 years’ experience, Astarte became one of the first real estate managers to commit a share of its carry to improving access to education and equal opportunities from inception, with a portion of profits donated to Beyond Capital, an impact fund investing in for-profit social enterprises serving impoverished communities throughout India and East Africa.

The drive for diversity is also one of Astarte’s top priorities, through being a member of The 30% Club, a global campaign group striving for gender diversity on boards and senior management teams. Farmaki is a mentor in the club’s ‘Women Ahead’ program and is involved in the TARA mentoring program for high-performing women.

Within the venture capital space, co-founders and managing partners of BBG Ventures, Susan Lyne and Nisha Dua, believe the new wave of female founders in the start-up world are being underserved and overlooked by the traditional venture capital sector and have set about ensuring their business defies the usual founder profile sought by other venture capital firms in the marketplace by launching BBG Ventures in 2014.

Nisha Dua

In March 2021, Lyne and Dua closed their third fund on $50 million, which is the largest early-stage venture capital fund to date investing exclusively in women-led start-ups. Since its launch, BBG Ventures has invested in 76 women-founded companies and are continuing their efforts in driving change and challenging convention.

This initiative showcases what can be done with a vision and determination across different asset classes. These nominees are just a few examples from a long list of admired and respected leaders in their sectors. Further change is coming, and the nominees for this initiative show there is momentum gathering to transform industries and create a more diverse picture.