Investment giant Carlyle has appointed Sandra J. Horbach as one of two co-heads of its main U.S. buyout arm.

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Early in her career, Sandra Horbach earned the distinction of being the first woman to be named a partner at a major U.S. private equity firm when she ascended to that role at Forstmann Little & Co.

Twenty-four years later, Horbach has broken through another barrier at an even bigger investment giant.

The Carlyle Group announced Thursday it has named her one of two co-heads of its main U.S. buyout arm, a sprawling business with nearly $40 billion in capital under management.

“I couldn’t be more excited and honored to take on this new role for Carlyle,” she said in an interview. “This is one of the top-performing buyout businesses in the private equity universe.”

The move will make Horbach one of the most senior women in private equity, a world that for decades had been best known as the province of white men often happy to be called barbarians and corporate raiders.

Since the peak of the RJR Nabisco buyout in 1988, however, private equity firms have worked to add women to their senior ranks. At the Blackstone Group, Joan Solotar leads multiasset investing and external relations and is a member of that behemoth’s management committee. At Carlyle, Adena Friedman was chief financial officer for three years before she returned to the Nasdaq stock market in 2014 as its president and potential next CEO.

Among the biggest buyout firms, women make up 15.3 percent of senior employees this year, up from 11.9 percent in 2013, according to data from the research firm Preqin. Across all private equity, however, women make up 12.6 percent of top executives.

“This continues to be a work in progress,” said Nancy Sims, the chief executive of the Robert Toigo Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at improving diversity in financial services companies. “Examples like Sandra are a way to refresh and energize the movement. But we cannot wipe our hands and say the job is done.”

Since her arrival at Carlyle in 2005 from Forstmann Little, Horbach has become one of the investment titan’s bigger stars.

She helped lead deals for the likes of Dunkin’ Brands and Philosophy cosmetics. More recently, she led investments in Beats, the popular headphone maker that was eventually sold to Apple for $3 billion, and in Vogue International, a hair-care manufacturer that was sold to Johnson & Johnson for $3.3 billion.

“Sandra Horbach got this job because she’s an outstanding investor, and she was the best person to get it,” William E. Conway Jr., Carlyle’s co-chief executive and chief investment officer, said in an interview.

As her star rose, Horbach became a natural candidate to eventually become a co-head of Carlyle’s most prominent arm. Horbach will take the co-head role of Allan M. Holt, 64, joining Peter J. Clare. Holt will be chairman of the team.