“When looking out at the next decade, it’s important to focus on inclusion: everyone should feel welcome."Molly Ashby
Founded in 2000 by Chairman and CEO Molly Ashby, Solera Capital is a private equity firm committed to building the next generation of businesses and leaders. The firm draws on the perspectives of a diverse investment and operating team to identify companies positioned to benefit from major developments in the economy.
We caught up with Ashby to discuss the role of women in tomorrow’s companies.
Ernst & Young: You’ve created a firm that consists mainly of women. Can you talk about the rationale behind that?
Molly Ashby: At Solera, we ask big questions: what industries and segments will be important? What’s new, and what will come next? Unique perspectives on those questions enable interesting, sometimes unconventional investment decisions.
I worked in private equity at J.P. Morgan before starting Solera, and I’m a deep believer that success requires adherence to a set of almost “old-fashioned” practices that include proprietary research and hands-on business building.
With the opportunity to start from scratch, I was very deliberate in thinking about how to develop a team that combines these practices with super-creative, forward-thinking ideas.
The diversity of our team is also enormously enabling as we connect and engage with the next generation of entrepreneurs, and it leads us to take a different view of the workplace. We have developed a set of core values and principles that produce a virtuous cycle. We’ve found that our culture, mission and values tend to attract talented women and men with diverse backgrounds and points of view.
EY: Is there a meaningful difference between mentoring and sponsorship when it comes to change?
Molly Ashby: There is a big difference, and they are both very important. Mentorship is more about personal and professional support, whereas sponsorship is concrete advocacy for advancement.
The emphasis on both mentorship and sponsorship is a core part of our culture, and it’s not gender focused. We encourage everyone to engage in a network and support our rising stars.
When you recommend a talented young professional for a board, a speaking opportunity or a stretch position, it makes a concrete impact on that person, but it really encourages those around them to reach higher as well.
We also firmly believe in inclusion: looking at people who may not have had this opportunity in the past. To make an impact, we need to encourage the next generation’s success across the board — by mentoring, sponsoring, providing guidance and resources, and helping laterally.
EY: Do you think men are in a better position to sponsor women than women are?
Molly Ashby: I don’t know that their position is better or worse, but men are absolutely essential to the effort to achieve a diverse workforce. Men traditionally hold greater authoritative positions in the government, non-profit and business sectors, and they have to be a big part of the conversation.
In my career, I have found men to be open, constructive and supportive in building an organization’s diversity. But we can’t point in one direction for the solution. We all have to push ourselves to do better and to reach a new level. It is everyone’s responsibility.
EY: What are your thoughts about preferentially selecting women vs. simply waiting to see which candidate is the strongest?
Molly Ashby: In our experience, when you’re known for diversity and being forward-thinking, you attract a pool of candidates who value those characteristics. We have developed our team and culture over time, and it’s self-reinforcing. But you cannot create something where you set up rules that promote one gender or group at the exclusion of others.
We really dislike exclusion; it’s wrong and dangerous. If we really want to do a better job, we can’t repeat the past, in which people were excluded and alienated. When looking out at the next decade, it’s important to focus on inclusion: everyone should feel welcome.