Congratulations to Mergers & Acquisitions’ 2021 Top 25 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A! In our 6th annual edition of the list, we honor consummate dealmakers who are also champions of change and powerful advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Never view your challenges as a disadvantage,” former First Lady Michelle Obama advises. “Your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.” Mergers & Acquisitions’ 2021 Top 25 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A proved her point during the past year. Not only did they overcome adversity, but they used it to their advantage, leading their teams through the pandemic with courage and creativity; closing deals with aplomb; managing remote workers adroitly; and creating and nurturing key business relationships. Many also balanced a range of personal responsibilities, including caring for young children and aging parents, as everyone worked and learned from home.

Already champions of inclusion, the honorees doubled down on diversity, as awareness of racial inequality in the U.S. heightened. They renewed their efforts to recruit and retain women and Black, Latinx and Asian dealmakers. And they strengthened and forged new groups to tackle the issues of the day together in innovative virtual formats.

“I believe the way to affect change in the business world is to affect change at the board level, so that more voices are heard,” said honoree Venita Fields, partner, Pelham S2K Mangers LLC. “Specifically, the voices of women and people of color must be heard at the board level and in the halls of private and public businesses. This takes a level of courage, and courage is a muscle that is seldom used. I believe that women have to become more accustomed to, and comfortable with, using that muscle, speaking up when necessary and to get allies to speak up for change as well.”

The dealmakers on our list know they have an important role to play. “I’ve realized that my seniority gives me a platform and an opportunity to raise awareness about ways that we all can work together to build a more inclusive environment,” said Justine Chiou of William Blair.

“As a Black leader, I am keenly aware of how many people look up to me within and outside the firm,” said Olamide Ajibesin, managing director, Anchin. “I’m passionate about mentoring various minority groups and hope to spread the message of how young professionals can manifest their ambitions through self-advocacy, resilience and networking.”

“It’s about equality for all, not just women,” said Pam Hendrickson of the Riverside Co. “Especially given the social unrest we saw in 2020, these themes are ever-prevalent and important as ever.”

Representation has always been an important factor in our project. Women are sorely underrepresented in the middle market, and many women aspiring to forge a career in dealmaking have yearned for role models to follow. By shining a spotlight on women who are stellar M&A pros and powerful leaders in the dealmaking community, Mergers & Acquisitions helps provide a roadmap.

We also provide an important platform for influential women to speak. In Q&As with the Top 25, you’ll hear from the dealmakers in their own voices and in their own words. And this year for the first time, we’re launching M&A’s Speak Series of leadership events on Feb. 24 with M&A’s Most Influential Women Speak.

Interest in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the middle market is at an all-time high, reinvigorated by heightened awareness of racial inequities through the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Institutional Limited Partners Association (ILPA) launched in December its Diversity in Action initiative. By signing on to the initiative, an organization publicly demonstrates its support for advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many private equity firms have already pledged support, including Apollo Global Management; Audax Group; Blackstone; Carlyle; Clayton, Dubilier & Rice; KKR; LLR Partners; Palladium Equity and Silver Lake.

The primary goal of the effort is to produce quantifiable evidence of the number of limited partner and general partner organizations that have undertaken specific actions to advance diversity and inclusion, whether that pertains to recruitment, retention and promotion, engagement with investment partners, or support for broader industry initiatives. Tracking internal hiring and promotion statistics by gender and race/ethnicity is a key component of the project.

For women in the middle market, the numbers are going up, albeit slowly. Globally, the proportion of alternative assets employees that are female has grown to 19.7 percent, up from 18.8 percent in 2017, according to Preqin. Women now account for 11.9 percent of senior roles in alternatives.

Our Most Influential Women are actively involved in increasing the ranks of women in M&A. To borrow a phrase from Vice President Kamala Harris, they are committed to leaving the door more open than it was when they walked in.

Editor’s Note: In the table, 2021 Top 25 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A, you’ll find links to Q&As with the dealmakers and hear in their own words how they are leading the way. Also see the table, 2021 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A Honorable Mentions, for more dealmakers making a difference.

2021 Top 25 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A
Marilyn AdlerFounder; Managing PartnerMizzen Capital 
Olamide AjibesinManaging Director;  Leader, M&A Transaction Advisory Anchin
Justine ChiouManaging Director, ServicesWilliam Blair
Catherine  DarganPartnerCovington & Burling LLP
Daphne DufresneManaging PartnerGenNx360 Capital Partners LP
Afsar Farman-FarmaianManaging Director; General CounselVaragon Capital Partners LP
Venita FieldsPartnerPelham S2K Mangers  LLC
Jeri HarmanFounder; ChairAvante Capital Partners
Nanette HeidePartner; Co-Chair, Private Equity Group Duane Morris LLP
Pamela HendricksonChief Operating Officer; Vice Chairman The Riverside Co.
Dena JalbertFounder; CEOAlign Business Advisory Services
Mary JosephsFounder; CEOVerit Advisors LLC
Julia KarolPresident; COOWatermill Group
Alice MannOperating PartnerBlue Wolf Capital Partners
Patricia McJoyntManaging DirectorKBW (a Stifel company)
Beatrice MitchellCo-Founder; Managing DirectorSperry, Mitchell & Co. Inc.
Melissa Mounce MithalManaging Director, Leadership Talent & DiversityGTCR LLC
Mina Pacheco NazemiManaging DirectorBarings
Lorine  PendletonLead Partner, Rising America FundPortfolia 
Natasha  Plooster Chief Operating Officer Bridgepoint Investment Banking 
 Kimberly  SmithCo-Chair, Global M&A/PE PracticeKatten
Michelle Van HellemontManaging DirectorAccordion
Amy WeismanManaging DirectorSterling Investment Partners
Suzanne YoonFounder;  Managing Partner Kinzie Capital Partners
Caroline YoungDirector, ESGHKW
2021 Most Influential Women in Mid-Market M&A Honorable Mentions
Cindy BabittPartnerCyprium Partners
Susan BethChief Operating OfficerNRD Capital
Sonya Brown General PartnerNorwest 
Sherry CefaliManaging DirectorDuff & Phelps LLC
Elaine  ChimHead of Private Equity Americas and APACApex Group
Claudine CohenManaging Principal, Transactions and Turnaround AdvisoryCohnReznick LLP
Alicia CooneyPartnerMonument Group
Jennifer CottonManaging Director; Chief Underwriting OfficerMadison Capital Funding LLC
Eva DavisManaging Partner, Los Angeles; Co-Chair, PE PracticeWinston & Strawn LLP
Mary Ann DomurackiManaging Director MMG Advisors Inc. 
Darcy DownPrincipal, Corporate & SecuritiesBaker McKenzie
Heather FaustPartner; Co-FounderArgand Partners LP
Kate FaustPartner, Business DevelopmentRockwood Equity Partners
Jaime ForsythManaging DirectorMonomoy Capital Partners
Carolyn GaliettePresident; Chief Investment OfficerIronwood Capital
Beth HaasPartnerCyprium Partners
Kallie HapgoodManaging DirectorGridiron Capital
Therese IcussCo-Head of UnderwritingTwin Brook Capital Partners
Peg JacksonManaging DirectorStifel
Jennifer KeatingPartner; Co-Leader, Chicago Corporate & Securities PracticeMayer Brown LLP
Erin KerriganFounder; Managing DirectorKerrigan Advisors
Karin KovacicBusiness Development DirectorBaker Tilly
Jacque KruppaCounselHunton Andrews Kurth LLP
Randi  LallyCorporate PartnerFried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP
Melissa LeonardPartnerBakerHostetler
Heather  MadlandPartner, Business DevelopmentHuron Capital
Joan McCabe Senior AdvisorParcrest Advisors
Priyanka NaithaniDirectorHarris Williams
Marcia NelsonManaging Director ShareNett
Tess OxenstiernaManaging DirectorCapstone Headwaters
Gretchen PerkinsPartnerAvance Investment Management
Kimberly Petillo-DécossardPartnerCahill Gordon & Reindel LLP
Nancy PhillipsManaging PartnerRallyday Partners
Meranee PhingPartnerThe Riverside Company
Vania SchlogelManaging Partner; FounderAtwater Capital 
Sheryl SchwartzExecutive Board MemberWomen’s Association of Venture and Equity
Renny SieVice PresidentBoyne Capital
Jean StackCo-Head of Government & Defense; Managing DirectorBaird
Tracy StreckenbachOperating PartnerGridiron Capital
Robin  SuskindManaging Director KBW (A Stifel Company)
Rose ThompsonChief Operating OfficerButcherJoseph & Co.
Ekaterina TimaevaManaging Director; New York TAS Practice LeaderDuff & Phelps
Kim TrickCo-Head of UnderwritingTwin Brook Capital Partners
Shoshana VernickManaging DirectorAvathon Capital