• Vivienne Machado

Access Alternatives

Updated: Aug 5

Improving gender balance has been a priority for financial services recruiters for many years, and progress has been made. However, there’s more work to do, especially in areas such as Private Equity and Credit, as many potential female candidates from ethnic or disadvantaged backgrounds don’t know about these career options or regard the industry as opaque, elitist, and too hard to break into or simply ‘not for people like them.’ That’s why we are proud to sponsor Access Alternatives. This programme identifies and then supports female State school leavers with the intellect, motivation and curiosity to access careers in our industry. We spoke to the inspirational Vivienne Machado, who set up Access Alternatives.


Q: Vivienne, what is Access Alternatives, and how does it work?


With Access Alternatives, bright, numerically competent young women are identified in Year 13 – the final year of school. They are given coaching, a Private Equity mentor, and technical training in the foundations of Corporate Finance and Investment. They then participate in two internships at our sponsor Private Equity firms throughout their degree. We aim to get them to a level playing field with their competitors in time for penultimate year internships and a full-time role. We work with State schools across the UK because we know that people who typically apply to Private Equity roles tend to be privately educated, have often had better career advice and are more likely to have friends or relatives in finance. They are also likely to be in a stronger position to develop the skills required to network effectively and put themselves forward as confident, capable contenders for top jobs.


The first cohort of 20 young women will begin their journey in October 2022 and complete their first internships with Private Equity sponsor organisations in 2023.


Q: Why did you start this initiative?


Since beginning my investment banking career in the late 90's, I’ve recognised the need for diversity in recruitment. Back then, I saw a very public school, white male-dominated industry trying to change. Roll forward 10-15 years, and the banking sector has made some giant leaps in opening access to young women and people from more diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. This has required massive investment and active partnerships with organisations striving to open access to a broader range of candidates. However, progress is slow, and ROI isn’t always seen immediately. For example, a first-year insight programme for diverse candidates may not result in any hires for several years. The banks have become more comfortable with this, and I believe we should be doing the same in Private Equity as we recruit a sizeable proportion of our junior talent from the banks. Why wouldn’t we participate in initiatives to open up knowledge and enable a broader range of people to access our industry?


Q: Where did the idea stem from for this programme?


For the last few years, I’ve been working as Head of Talent Acquisition for one of the largest Private Equity firms in the world. I’ve seen that the candidates we were able to hire on to insight programmes and internships – usually via partnering with organisations such as 10,000 Black Interns, the Bright Network and so on – were often not equipped to perform optimally. These bright and capable young people lacked preparation, and commercial awareness, often performed poorly in technical/modelling type assessments and tasks, were less aware of how to network effectively and lacked the confidence of some of their peers who may have come from more privileged backgrounds. I wanted to start a programme that addressed this specifically – not just filling the funnel or offering a one-off internship - but actively working with handpicked individuals to coach, train and guide them towards success.


Q: Can you describe a typical journey of someone joining the Access Alternatives programme?


Students are identified in Year 13 before their final A level or Baccalaureate exams. We look for students who are numerically competent and have an interest in finding out more about a career in finance.


Then, in their first year of university, they are assigned to a mentor from one of our sponsor organisations, typically an Associate or Junior VP. They are enrolled on to the foundation modules of the CISI and, with their mentor’s help, work through around six hours per month of additional study (alongside their degree). They also receive one-onone, group coaching and skills sessions from our team of Recruiters and Coaches – everything from creating a LinkedIn profile and making a solid job application, to how to dress for an interview and build their own ‘personal brand’. At the end of their first year, they participate in a four-week internship.


As our Access Alternatives students go through their degree, they also advance in their CISI studies, build their networks (via their peers, mentors and the connections we help them to make), attend live and virtual training events and, finally, participate in a penultimate year Summer Internship. Once they reach their final year, they will be incredibly well equipped to apply for full-time roles – either within Private Equity or outside – and we will have done an excellent job of investing in a group of young people who otherwise may never have access to finance or investing careers.


Q: What’s the benefit of participating in the programme for your sponsors?


There are so many! Most PE firms have increased their focus on ESG –an important social initiative and one that signals their commitment to increasing diversity and opening up access from a socio-economic perspective. For the same reasons banks started doing this 20 years ago – their LP's (clients) are beginning to require it. Some of our sponsors may be able to offer full-time roles to participants post-graduation. For those that don’t - as they prefer candidates to gain a few years of experience in banking or consulting first - the ROI may be longer-term – but they can remain connected with their programme participants for when the time is right. For an average Private Equity firm, the cost of sponsoring a participant is minimal, but the value to the individual is enormous. The optics of engaging in such programmes are increasingly important to young people from all walks of life at the start of their careers. Young people increasingly want to know that the organisations they are joining value diversity and equal opportunity and that companies have an active policy around their impact on society.


If this featured article has sparked your curiosity then please reach out to Vivienne Machado for more information: vivienne@wilkinsonpartners.com

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