Inspiring women: Miray Topay – MD, Bain Capital
“Gender diversity is not a women’s issue.”
With an MBA from Harvard Business School and a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude (with great distinction) from Harvard College, Miray Topay chose a career in private equity. She entered the industry in 2008 and is now a managing director at Bain Capital. Miray gives Level 20 a candid account of life in private equity.
With such great educational achievements under your belt, you could have chosen any career. Why did you decide on private equity?
Miray: The main reason was the intellectual challenge PE presented and the variety. I really liked problem solving – trying to figure out what was the right investment and if so, how to drive that business to a better place. And being able to do that with different teams, businesses, and industries. I found that incredibly intriguing.
You’ve spent 14 years in PE – what keeps you hooked?
Miray: Maybe it’s a cliché answer, but it’s the people I work with and for. Learning from them, learning with them, and building relationships. I consider myself in some ways a business builder and I find working with management teams and founders to drive positive change and grow businesses super motivating. The other big thing for me is having a hand in increasing diversity in this industry and being able to mentor women. That’s a real passion of mine.
You are involved in Bain Capital’s recruitment and training – how can more women be attracted to a career in PE?
Miray: There is no single answer to this, and despite good intention, we haven’t yet solved how to achieve gender balance in PE. We do need to attract more women to private equity. We also need to then retain those women to see them come up to positions of decision making, positions of power; that when the real cultural change happens. It has a lot to do with the tone at the top. Private equity historically has been a white male industry. It is evolving. Now we need to show a different face of PE.
What’s the danger of not having diverse teams?
Miray: Diversity should be looked at through a very broad lens (gender, backgrounds, sexuality and so on), otherwise we risk group thinking. And it’s important that we don’t just focus on diversity in our own deal teams, but also think about the impact private equity has in the broader market. We have portfolio companies that we back, we sit on Boards, we hire management teams. Ensuring diversity is in everything we touch will also help create the change we’re looking for.
What have you found most challenging since joining the world of private equity?
Miray: A challenge I experienced personally at the beginning of my career was the fact that you lose more than you win in private equity on a regular basis. You chase a lot of great opportunities. And probability wise, you’re just going to lose more of them. I think for a lot of motivated people – previously highly successful in their education – after all the blood, sweat and tears, this can be demoralising. But, as you get more experienced, you accept it – and learn how to bounce back.
How do you stop work overwhelming you?
Miray: I go horse riding once a week with my daughter. It’s a just an hour – but no emails or calls. And we’re in nature. It’s also important to find those moments during your working day and not just wait for holidays or a couple of hours on the weekend to unwind. I have two young kids who take up my non-work time; that aspect of my life is really grounding.
On that note, what was it like coming back after maternity leave?
Miray: I had this crazy idea of taking my maternity leave in two parts rather than one block, because I wanted to take my baby to visit family in Turkey. That hadn’t been done before, but my team was great at making it work. Coming back, I found quite nerve-wracking. You have this new role, new job in a way, and you’ve gone through a lot of change in a short amount of time. And you ask yourself: ‘Who am I now? How do I define myself now? What’s my new identity?’ On top of that, it does take a lot of logistical mastery.
Have mentors helped you along the way?
Miray: I have mentors in private equity who are also mothers. Their support – things like telling me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got this, it’s going to work’ – was immensely helpful. At the start of my career, my mentors were more functional, then evolved into coaches over time. In the beginning, I benefitted from pointers about the job itself. Then became more about how you make it work, what motivates you, your purpose, and coping when you’re not feeling great. My mentors have become more like peers, and great friends. We all need mentors, especially women, in my opinion. And it’s important to look for them inside your organisation – and out.
What’s your involvement been with Level 20?
Miray: I’ve been involved at Level 20 from the very early days. It gives you a place where you can have a conversation, ask the questions, and find people who fit your tribe. I started as a mentee, so I was able to work with some great mentors for a couple of years – very senior men in the industry. That was a fantastic experience because they were people I wouldn’t normally get to know. The fact that Level 20 doesn’t only have women mentors but also men is really differentiation. Gender diversity is not a women’s issue that women are going to solve on their own.