M&A too male for females?

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New figures suggest investment banks are struggling to attract women to apply for graduate jobs in mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

Research by Cornell Partnership, a recruitment firm which runs graduate recruitment campaigns for investment banks, suggests the proportion of women applying to M&A divisions can be as low as 26%. By comparison, when the company ran a campaign inviting graduates to apply for jobs in debt capital markets (DCM), 52% of applicants were women.

Julia Barber, a consultant at Cornell Partnership, attributes the discrepancy to the perception that M&A and corporate finance is a male-dominated domain: "M&A provokes automatic associations of long hours in a male-dominated and fairly aggressive culture."

By comparison, she says female undergraduates may perceive jobs in DCM, which covers everything from leveraged finance to project finance, securitisation, acquisition finance and shipping finance, as less high pressure, which is not always the case.

Recruiters at investment banks confirm the dearth of female corporate finance applicants. But Rebecca Hill, head of graduate recruitment at HSBC Corporate and Investment Banking, says this extends to other areas too. "Last year women accounted for 28% of applicants to global investment banking and only 21% of applicants to sales and trading," she says. "But in our corporate banking division, 40% of applicants were women."

Like Barber, Hill says the perceived lifestyle in investment banking is a turn-off. "It's a work-life balance thing. Women are thinking long-term about families." Hill says HSBC is trying to counter this by inviting senior women to graduate recruitment events: "We have a female managing director on our energy and utilities M&A team who works four day weeks."

Anand David, Global Head of Recruiting at UBS Investment bank, acknowledges that women may have second thoughts before applying for jobs in corporate Finance because the hours can be more intense than elsewhere in the bank. "Capital markets jobs are very much defined by the fact that the markets are only open between 8am and 4pm," he says. "However, in corporate finance you need to be able to respond to clients 24-7. Deals do not stop for the weekend."