When Washington, DC-based private equity firm Carlyle announced its promotions in January, Sarah Schwarzschild’s name stood out. Her elevation to partner was her third promotion since joining the firm, and first not following maternity leave. She told sister publication PERE: “I was promoted to principal after my second child was born and promoted to managing director after my third child was born.” PERE asked Schwarzschild to jot down how other aspiring professionals and parents can achieve similar success. Here are five areas she noted:
1. Role models
For most of my career, there were few senior women investment professionals where I worked. I instead looked to my family. My mother, a corporate lawyer, always worked and rose to the management committee of a large law firm. My father, a successful lawyer himself, also worked full-time and supported my mother’s career. In my childhood, I watched real-time how a woman could succeed in a male-dominated industry while raising a family. I do believe that having seen a path helps to make it a possibility. My husband is an investment banker, so managing our work commitments and family schedule sometimes feels like it requires an MBA in logistics. But humor, kindness and a lot of caffeine help us get through.
2. Challenge beliefs
Women tend to shy away from investment roles because they believe these positions are not suited for working mothers. That’s a myth. Studies show that women make strong investors. And investment roles are good for working mothers because they allow for control – over the deal, over your career and ultimately over your personal life. One advantage investment roles have is a generally foreseeable schedule. My team and I typically know when we will be busy and can plan appropriately. When I am not working on the late stages of a transaction, I leave work in time to spend time with my children at night. Outstanding investment track records and performance for our limited partners is our goal at Carlyle. Unnecessary face-time is not.
I have forged strong mentor relationships throughout my career. These relationships created a network of advisors willing to share their experience, lend an ear and give advice. Some developed organically, others arose through formal programs. At Carlyle, our program matches mentors and mentees, rotating every six months. I had great matches, including a seasoned managing director, which provided unparalleled learning and exposure.
Sponsorship is a type of relationship often overlooked. A sponsor actively promotes your career, creating opportunities for you to shine. It could be an important assignment, a presentation to senior executives, a speaking engagement, or even a lunch meeting where you can showcase your skills. Sponsorship works as a virtuous cycle. The sponsor takes a chance to advocate for you. If you do a great job, your sponsor looks good, and it’s easier to advocate for you the next time. It requires active participation from both sides for it to be successful. At Carlyle, the founder of my group supported me from the beginning – when I joined the team four months pregnant – including immediately naming me to the investment committee and putting me on the fundraising path as a key member of the team. The head of our division is another sponsor who has provided me with many opportunities to interact with the executive team and other senior professionals.
You cannot score if you don’t shoot. This means you have to take advantage of the opportunities as they come to you. Say yes. Go for it. Even if you are afraid. You cannot listen to naysayers. Just have confidence in yourself and keep moving forward. And finally, prepare, prepare, prepare. Being prepared is critical to building credibility, which has been key to my career.