Podcast transcript: What PE can learn from Advent’s DEI program

22 min approx | 29 April 2021

Winna Brown

So today I’m delighted to welcome Tricia Glynn to the podcast. Tricia has been a private equity investor for over 20 years and is currently a partner with Advent International. She serves on a number of boards, including lululemon and Olaplex, and co-leads Advent’s retail, consumer and leisure investment sector. Tricia is also the co-chair of Advent’s Global Diversity Equity and Inclusion Committee, and she has very graciously agreed to share her personal experiences, as well as Advent’s perspectives and approach with respect to D&I. Tricia, welcome to the podcast.

Tricia Glynn

Thank you so much for having me.

Brown

A lot of people talk about wanting change, but very few people actually do something about it. What stoked your passion for D&I and your commitment to lead real measurable change in private equity culture?

Glynn

I became aware of the power of role modeling, the pressure of it as somebody who had to be the role model in many instances. But if you look at the top of an organization, which we do in investing all the time, and say how are you going to drive change? How you really drive change is the processes, not any individual talent or person. And so, my visibility, frankly, from just what we do in the world, like make businesses better, allow them to capture that market better. DEI is a component of how we can effect real change, and so that’s one way of answering your question. The second is, I just sort of can’t not do it.

Brown

Yeah.

Glynn

This has been a passion for a long time, and just, frankly, with each new, you know, position I’ve had in the industry, it’s unlocked more that I can do, and that makes me feel really good; it makes me feel like I’m impacting change. You know, Angela Ahrendts, who ran Burberry and then Apple Retail globally — phenomenal executive — she and I were talking with a group last summer, and one thing she said to everybody was just like what’s the issue where you can’t breathe, right? You can’t breathe until it gets fixed. If you think about what we’re doing, think about the world at large, right? Imagine the possibilities if you unleashed the collective genius of the population, if you didn’t hold people back because of some feature of how they were born, the color of their skin, a disability they might have, whether they have two X chromosomes or not, who they love — that’s incredible. And I do think about everything we’re doing. While it might be distilled in the moment, right — like well, private equity might still have a lot of low-hanging fruit to get better — anything we do, any executive we open up the path for, any wealth creation opportunity we open up for someone where they can then pivot and do something incredible somewhere else — all of this is part of the ripple effect of making real change. And so, I love my piece in that, and I love that it can keep changing. Right now, where I’m leading investments and boards, I can impact what those boards look like, what those executive teams look like, and I need to know — and by the way, what processes those companies put in place — and I need to now hold that group accountable that there’s a ripple effect underneath that leadership inside an organization to keep driving change. But I’m excited for the next step. I’m excited for when some of this becomes second nature and we can take on the bigger, more complex problems, because right now we’ve just got a long way to go.

Brown

Yes, we all do, we all do. But can you describe that moment. Was there a moment that Advent decided to institutionalize and invest in D&I, and did this happen before you joined the team, or rather was it that ability to design and lead a program to drive real change one of the reasons that attracted you to Advent?

Glynn

Oh, great question. So, Advent’s work preceded me, right, by a long shot. This has been a focus at the most senior levels of the organization for years and years. Now that doesn’t mean that being part of it wasn’t really attractive to me as a reason to come join the firm. And I certainly, when I spoke to the leadership at Advent, you know, expressed my desire to be part of it, but their work preceded me. Now in 2018, we formalized that work. We started with the global level to say, look, we work in 15 cities, numerous countries all over the world, right? What are the processes inside our walls and what can we do? We had the support of the most senior levels of the organization and a view that DEI was a critical component to our future. And so, we set up this global committee at that point, and the committee needed to figure out how to start taking really institutional formalized steps forward. The firm had always had different pockets that developed best practices, and we, our first thought was like, look, we can share these best practices that are across the globe, right? There’s a lot of great things happening inside the firm, we all believe this is important. When we realized, when we got into the work and we started sharing it across the regions, we realized there was a huge opportunity to clarify why this was important to the organization, to lay out ground rules for how we were going to create change, and then hold ourselves accountable. So, I would say each year, we keep thinking we’re building foundation — the foundation gets more and more broad, we get more ambitious about what we can do. But from the very beginning, this was about DEI is critical to our success, right? Advent is an employer of choice, which we’ve always wanted to be, and a view that really diverse, equitable and inclusive culture will help drive returns for our partners. We also believe it’s the right thing to do, but it was really important to us to state, you know, unequivocally, this is central to our business model. After we did that, right — we set that statement, we made that decision, we had buy-in for it — we decided we were going to drive change across four pillars in the internal organization. That was recruitment, development, retention and culture. And each of those pillars required us to get educated, to find third-party experts to help us to formalize, to look at our processes of how we were making decisions and to basically start stripping out bias and following best practices — that by the way, they’d instituted in other places across the world — and then learn how they impact our culture. The last piece of our DEI efforts was around our portfolio, right? Advent, at any given time is going to employ about 400,000 people around the world, and so our ability to drive DEI for those employees, too, is a huge, is hugely important to us. And so those are the principles. Over time — I know I said that we’ve gotten more ambitious — we’ve also had to bring more people into the group. And so, while it started as a global coalition and committee of partners, we’ve extended that outside of the partner group, because we need, again, diverse opinions from as many different perspectives as we can get. We’ve set up regional committees, and so our current structure is, basically, this global committee is the tip of the spear. Where we want to go next, where can we build? The regional committees need to take the global policy, implement them thoughtfully for their region; but, by the way, in doing that and having those practitioners on the ground, you get phenomenal ideas back, and we can spin them back up to the global committee and share best practices. And so, this is a big effort inside Advent. It’s a total honor to be part of it. We’ve got phenomenal ideas coming from so many different groups in the organization, and it’s allowing us to test and learn, too, which is, you know, a business principle we think is important.

Brown

It sounds like a phenomenal approach to instilling D&I into everything you do. And as we think about the program you talked about, the portfolio companies, is the program and your approach mandatory? So, when you acquire a portfolio company, you share with them what your approach is and you require them to take on your policies and approaches? Or is it voluntary? How do you actually build it into the value creation thesis?

Glynn

That’s a great question. And I would say we’re earlier in our portfolio work for this very question. We debated where we were going to take a stand to try and mandate change. Now we’ve absolutely shared with our portfolio our perspective, our mission statement and that we hold them accountable for that; but maybe it’s most helpful if I just describe a little bit of what we’re doing.

So, inside the portfolio, the first thing we did is to engage a firm called Paradigm, a third party very well known, to provide our companies with this diagnostic tool so they could self-evaluate their DEI policies and practices. We, of course, get this summary and results of that, too, and know where companies’ biggest opportunities for change are going to be. And so, effectively, based on the results of that Paradigm survey, all the companies that took part now can develop this comprehensive strategy for improving DEI in their businesses.

The second thing we did is create a consistent reporting framework for boards of directors to monitor — so for Advent, monitor and drive progress on DEI. We’re asking all companies to report progress. We’re asking them to discuss it at each of their quarterly board meetings, and the reason for this, really, is, if you look at any of the research, right, if you can track change, the numbers are really the only way to hold yourself accountable. And so we need to have the numbers in place, and then we need to make sure it’s on the agenda. And so that’s something we’re really comfortable mandating.

You know, the third thing we’re working to increase is the diversity of our portfolio company boards. We are building a database of diverse executives and board members, and we’ve engaged a number of firms to help with recruiting, and we’re looking at policies, you know, outcomes — again, this is an area where we know we can implement change. The fourth is, I think, pretty cool. And so, we’re looking to foster diverse talent from within our portfolio. And so, what we did was, just over the course of the last six months, we’ve partnered with Harvard Business School to launch the Advent Leadership Academy. This is an executive education program. It’s taught by HBS faculty, and it provides high-potential diverse leaders from across our portfolio with both a network, a community for each other, but also knowledge and skills to help accelerate their professional development. This is very real-time, so we have 40 people from 22 companies taking part in the inaugural program, and it just kicked off April 1st. It’ll run for the next three months, but we’re hoping that this is something we can do a lot over years and years to come.

Brown

Yeah, I saw that announcement. Very exciting, actually. And the people that are participating in this inaugural class, can you tell us a little bit about how they were selected?

Glynn

Sure. It was a combination of both the executive teams at those companies nominating, and then Advent trying to build a diverse cohort within, and so partnership. And like, like everything I’m walking through with the portfolio, it’s a partnership, where, just like other really critical business processes, right, our companies have to have the ability inside their walls to run their business, attack their market, drive change. What we can do as a value-added investor is provide support in critical issues, critical processes, we share best practices, we’re taking the same tone on DEI, and we’re being directive because we think it matters, and we think it matters in a timely basis.

Brown

And I guess a couple of thoughts come to mind. One, when you’re looking at a target and you’re in the negotiation stage, have you found that your approach to D&I and what you bring to the table has been attractive in the negotiation process and, you know, targets are looking at Advent perhaps more favorably than other firms because of what you bring to the table from a D&I perspective?

Glynn

You know, they are, and it’s so nice to see. Because look, that’s, I mean that’s obviously wonderful, but I just recently, just a couple of weeks ago, I actually had a business that told us we had been selected to move forward in our process with them in large part because of our DEI practices and what we were clearly doing inside our portfolio and what they thought we would do for their employees if we were the owners in the next go-around. And so that was, you know, that was one of those things that brightens your day a bit as you’re going through it.

Brown

Oh my gosh, that is fantastic. And not only is that fantastic and kind of gives you that sense of we’re doing something right, we’re moving in the right direction, but I’m sure that it also is going to play a big role in terms of, you know, the people that, within the organization, you know, the retention of talent and the attraction of talent within Advent itself going forward to see that you’re actually making this real change and impacting people’s lives in real time.

Glynn

Absolutely. These, I am a big believer that all of these steps forward, all of these initiatives — they feed on each other, right? Bringing people onto a diverse board where they can feel the difference of having their voice heard, you know, hiring diverse and promoting diverse talent — just creating a culture where people are comfortable talking about these issues, right? These are human issues. It doesn’t mean we don’t hold ourselves accountable as an organization to fix it, right, and to not be part of extending the problem. And we all know we have a long way to go, but we’re trying, and we are bringing people into the fold who care about this, and all of that has not gotten fixed.

Brown

So if we stand back — and clearly, you know, what you and Advent have been doing has, has really been, I mean I would suggest is a leader within private equity and potentially even outside of private equity because so many companies right now are really focused on D&I and trying to make those long-lasting changes — but oftentimes I also would suggest that many people don’t even know where to start. You know, they have good intentions but it’s hard to get started. Given all that you’ve learned and the programs that you have in place, give me, you know, for our audience five actions, if you will, that private equity firms can take today that you think will be most impactful in the long run in terms of moving the needle with respect to D&I.

Glynn

Sure, I’m happy to share. So this is, this is certainly informed from what we did, right, because we all come to this, or many deal partners in the industry, right, were not DEI experts; but there are DEI experts out there, and so, a lot of what you’re going to hear me say is, listen to them, but if I were to pick five, right: (1) Find the experts who understand your industry and understand how to drive diverse, equitable and inclusive cultures, right? Third-party firms, academic researchers, there’s so many ways to learn; so Step 1, learn. (2) Pick up the phone, right? We all benefit from making the industry better, and I have found DEI experts inside private equity at other firms but also outside private equity. I just, you know, companies that we admire that have been really, really willing to help us. (3) My third perspective would be to track your data, right? See where your biggest issues are, be honest about it and pick the issues you’re going to go start trying to drive change and hold yourself accountable to them. I had somebody very early tell me, you don’t need to share all the data immediately, but you need to know what it says if you’re a leader of an organization and the goal is to share it, right? The goal is to know, have everyone in your culture know what you’re driving towards, but first you’ve got to track it. So that would be point three. (4) Point four, I would say, make it okay to say the wrong thing for a little while. And I have certainly been impacted as people have said things that didn’t take into account my background and I know that, we’re talking about microaggressions, right, or aggressions. We’ve all lived in cultures, we’ve all seen, we’ve had friends and colleagues impacted by this, but having said that, sometimes fear holds leaders back from engaging in this work. And if what you’re trying to do is drive the organization forward, you need the leaders of the organization to move too, and so that is not to say that you allow insensitivity, but making it OK to say the wrong thing in some forum, in some setting, or for some amount of time, you’re going to allow well-intentioned people to learn on the job. And I do think that’s critical, especially the further behind your industry or firm is. (5) And then fifth, hold people accountable, right? And that’s hold your leaders accountable, but hold everyone in your organization accountable and hold them accountable in whatever way your organization holds people accountable. This isn’t going to happen via magic, and it’s not going to happen just because someone senior says it should. And so, ultimately — look, in private equity especially, we understand how to partner with an investment and help drive change. What you’re trying to do is drive change in your organization, and it requires work, and it requires effort and it requires mindshare.

Brown

Yeah, it’s definitely, to your point, it’s not something that happens overnight. You need to be committed, but you also need to, you also need to actually hold people accountable, or people will get busy and it will get pushed to the bottom of their priority list, and that’s the only way you can really make change last. So fantastic words of advice. Now if I can maybe just take a moment to go just a little more personal, if you will. Do you have any advice, thinking about at the start of our conversation, do you have any advice for women who are out there who might be interested in pursuing a career as an investor in PE? What words of advice would you give them?

Glynn

Oh, of course I do. Oh, I haven’t gotten this question in a while. So, you know, all right, first, where you work matters. When I was earlier in my career, I used to tell people find a firm where your gender is irrelevant, right? Find a firm where your work product is going to be what shines through, where you feel like the decisions you’re making and the relationships you’re building are the most important thing. And I shifted that at some point, right, as we talked about my insight into where bias exists and what impacts diverse professionals coming up — not just women — just diverse professionals coming up, is harder than I thought. And so I’ve shifted that over time to say, find a firm that wants you. Find a firm where you are going to be valued and you are going to be sponsored. One thing we didn’t talk about — my fault, I didn’t bring it up — but one of the programs of many, right, but one of the programs I’m really proud of is our Aspire program, which is the Advent sponsorship program. We designed it to create opportunities for future diverse leaders. It’s a newer program, but it pairs mid to senior-level diverse deal professionals with partners of the firm who act as sponsors, not just mentors, right? This sponsorship vs. mentorship thing is such a critical difference. Mentors help you navigate the playing field; sponsors are in the room when decisions about you are being made and can help advocate for you. They can open up their network; they can open up their experience set. It is more powerful, right?

Brown

Yeah.

Glynn

And it’s not like people don’t have sponsors without these programs in place — they do; but the research would say — and just like, think about it, intuition would say —you’re more likely to have a sponsor if you’re in the majority, because it’s easier. And so, what this sponsorship program does is try to create sponsorships for diverse professionals coming up, and that’s what I really mean when I say go to a firm that wants you, right? Go to a firm that’s going to help you navigate what is a more challenging playing field, at least in the beginning; because we don’t need every firm to be perfect yet. That’s the goal, but if the industry can get more incredible diverse talent to gain leadership positions, then that diverse talent just naturally goes to other firms, helps evolve other firms, starts their own firms (which is phenomenal, right); like you want this leadership talent to get developed, you don’t want it to get stymied at promotion steps along the way, and then you want it to lead. That’s the point. And whether it leads inside your firm or elsewhere is really okay.

Brown

Yeah, wow. That is fantastic and that, that program sounds like exactly what every firm, whether you’re in private equity or not, needs to have in place, because you’re right, there’s so many, there’s so many different levers that need to be put in place to help move change and help diverse people get through that barrier. I mean we used to call it the glass ceiling. I don’t know if the glass ceiling still exists, but, you know, I don’t know what we call it these days, but there is definitely hurdles in a career path for a diverse individual, and we need to put in place individuals who are going to help cultivate their talent, bring their skills to the forefront and promote it within organizations, and celebrate it so that they can move to those next levels and then make more change happen, right, and bring more diverse perspectives on board.

Glynn

I think that is very well said. I agree.

Brown

Well, Tricia, thank you so much for your time today and for your insights and perspectives. I have truly enjoyed our conversation, and I know everyone will really value what you’ve shared and the insights and the words of advice. So thank you very much.

Glynn

Well, thank you for doing this. Thank you for bringing voices from the industry to talk about these issues. It’s important, and I’m just grateful because I know the time and effort that you put into this is real. So on behalf of all of us, thank you for bringing voice, focus and attention.

Brown

Thank you, Tricia.