TechnologyAccounting SoftwareWomen in Consulting – What’s wrong with this picture?

Women in Consulting - What's wrong with this picture?

The proportion of women partners in consultancies is still extremely low and, even at the graduate recruitment level, women seem to find the profession less attractive than men. Sarah Perrin looks at the ways in which firms are trying to attract and retain talented female consultants.

[QQ]Some sisters are doing it for themselves and running their own consultancies.[QQ] Other high-flying women are progressing up the career ladder in the established global firms. But are there enough of them at the top, and if not, why not?[QQ] Shock, horror: there aren’t as many women consulting partners as there are men. At Andersen Consulting women account for only 13 percent of the firm’s partners and associates. At Ernst & Young MCS just over 15 percent of the top 200 partners and senior managers are women. These figures are not out of step with most other leading firms. Lower down the seniority scale things do improve a bit but, even at the graduate recruitment level, in general women don’t seem to be as attracted to consulting as men. There are variations of course. Sema Group’s management consultancy practice is overall 65 percent male and 45 percent female, which isn’t bad, although there are far fewer women in technology and systems consulting.[QQ] Firms acknowledge the potential problem. “For me it’s a bottom line issue that we are not attracting and retaining our fair share of the educated female workforce,” says Janet Beck, a partner in PricewaterhouseCooper’s entertainment and media sector. Jo Dinsdale, human resources manager at Andersen Consulting, agrees: “There is a recognition that we need to retain the top male and female talent.”[QQ] Beck herself joined PW, as it then was, 18 months ago after 11 years with Andersen Consulting. She doesn’t feel that she has been discriminated against at either firm along the way.[QQ] However, she thinks some women may be put off applying for consultancy careers due to “not necessarily accurate views” about the difficulty in combining consulting with a stable home life. Others may be deterred by an impression of consulting as a grey-suited, male dominated environment.[QQ] “We recognise that in PwC and we are trying to project an image of an appreciation of diversity,” Beck says.[QQ] Other firms are also reviewing the way they portray themselves and modifying their traditional recruiting activities. For example, Andersen Consulting is actively trying to raise awareness of the firm among women. “In the last year we have been looking to sponsor women-only clubs and societies,” says Dinsdale. “In the past we have sponsored rugby clubs.” The firm has also been advertising in female publications.[QQ] Once women are on board the firms are looking at ways that they can encourage them to stay. But there is a recognition that men can also benefit from measures to ease the strain of the consulting lifestyle. “You find that men leave for the same reasons as women now, for families and children,” says Sue Altschuler, head of consulting at Sema Group.[QQ] Says Beck: “There is a recognition that the work-life balance is an issue for everyone. It’s just that women have specific issues around that if they want to have children. So there are programmes around the work-life balance to look at what we can do to help people.” She is involved in a European initiative to establish what specific issues affect women and what can be done to recruit and retain more women.[QQ] Ernst & Young is also on the case. “We have thought seriously about the policies we have and all the things that might be barriers to women,” says Nicolas Mabin, director of recruitment for MCS. E&Y has put in place a flexible working policy that encompasses job sharing, career breaks, part-time working, reduced hours working, family leave, paternity leave and maternity pay and leave. “These are the building blocks of the policy that say there should be no barriers,” says Mabin.[QQ] E&Y also has a project underway to look at lifestyle issues and consider what further action the firm can take to lessen the downsides.[QQ] Andersen Consulting’s practical response is a flexible working programme which tries to find opportunities for people who want to work three or four days a week. “We look for roles that can be done on a part-time basis,” says Dinsdale. Initially the flexible working option was set up for women returning after maternity leave but it has recently been opened up to men and women without families as well.[QQ] In some cases top women are taking responsibility for creating a working environment that is more supportive of the individual’s home life. “Some people believe you have to be very flexible and prepared to work into the evenings and weekends and be travelling all the time,” says Jo Bond, managing director of Wright Management Consultants, specialists in human resource and career issues. “It’s not like that here. I have three children. I make it a priority that every evening at 7.30 we sit down and have a meal together.”[QQ] Bond, who joined the firm six months ago, encourages staff to follow her example. “I am very concerned if people are working excessive hours,” she says. “You need people at the top of the organisation who will lead by example. I am not into presenteeism. I work when I need to work and flex my hours accordingly.”[QQ] Colette Dorward is a founding partner of Smythe Dorward Lambert, a niche communications and behavioural change consultancy. She has a clear view as to what the obstacles to women’s career progression are. “It’s not an intellectual or professional issue: it’s a work structure or expectation issue,” she says. Dorward is a mother of a young child. “I find that very demanding,” she says. “But I have much more financial choice than most other people.”[QQ] The professional care that guarantees the quality and high degree of flexibility that Dorward needs costs her, she estimates, about £50,000 of pre-tax income. But she is under no illusions that this level of mental peace of mind is an option for all working mothers.[QQ] Lifestyle and family barriers aside, do female consultants feel the need for more women mentors?[QQ] “My mentors have been male,” says Dorward. “I haven’t had women role models that inspired me. I was brought up by a father who wanted sons and had daughters and carried on anyway. That makes a difference. I have found male mentors more “sympathique”. They have said, ‘Come on, get out of the box’.”[QQ] But this doesn’t mean that Dorward is not supportive of other women.[QQ] “I identify a lot with young women coming in,” she says. “I want to do a lot for them but I don’t do a lot for my peer group. I should do more. We assume that women in our peer group are fine. We are tough on each other. The sisterhood is a myth at more senior levels.”[QQ] It is not clear whether women feel the need for more networking opportunities.[QQ] PwC has recently set up a network for women in the UK. “It’s relatively informal,” says Beck. “We had an launch meeting which attracted far more people than we expected. We asked for ideas about what people wanted the network to do. For example, you could be the only woman on a team and may want to be in touch with other women in the firm.”[QQ] E&Y female partners can hook into a women’s network actively promoted by the US firm, and a European version is under consideration. However, networks are not always popular. “We used to have a women’s network but there was waning interest,” says Dinsdale.[QQ] But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t issues to be addressed, she says.[QQ] “People want to see action and support from the top. The lifestyle – that’s the key challenge. The concern is how we can support people through flexible working.”[QQ] Firms are aware of the sensitivities surrounding women’s issues and the need for special facilities, groups or policies. “There is a diversity of opinion among female employees about how much you should do for women only,” says Dinsdale. “Quite a significant body thinks women should be treated exactly the same as men.”[QQ] “We certainly don’t want to positively discriminate in favour of women,” says Mabin. “Once you start trying to define policies that make an exception of women it is counter productive.”[QQ] Whatever the status and representation that women consultants have now, there has been an improvement over recent years. And they are also more likely to be respected by clients.[QQ] Sema’s Altschuler has noticed the change. When she started as a consultant at PA in the ’80s she was the only woman in her division. She recalls an early assignment: “A female colleague and I had to interview a guy in the army. We were ready to go but he seemed to be prevaricating.[QQ] We asked if he was ready to start and he replied, ‘Shouldn’t we wait for your boss?’.” Altschuler laughs heartily. “A lot of our clients are women now and that makes things a lot easier as well,” she says. [QQ] [QQ] [QQ] CWB founder Wuillamie: “I manage my time but it doesn’t mean I don’t suffer”[QQ] In 1994 Christiane Wuillamie set up CWB, a financial services, IT and consulting firm, having previously worked in software houses, City banks and at Origin where she set up the firm’s healthcare practice.[QQ] CWB has grown dramatically, doubling its revenues every year, and now employs over 250 staff.[QQ] Wuillamie doesn’t feel that being a woman has held her back. “It’s been an advantage,” she says. “As a woman, when you give your opinion to a man, he will take it. I am not there to undermine them, I am there to do the job. Men have to position themselves, they have to be more macho.”[QQ] Wuillamie is a woman who speaks her mind. “I am not politically correct and I am sexist,” she says. She thinks men and women have different strengths and weaknesses, that women are good listeners, for example, but together they make good teams.[QQ] She would like more female consultants on her staff but recruiting them is a problem. “Nearly 30 percent of our staff are women but most are in junior and support positions. There are not enough at mid-management or senior level. They don’t apply.” Wuillamie, who has just had a baby daughter, doesn’t try to give the impression that her life is easy. “Setting up a business is very demanding,” she says. “I have never been able to take a breath. I manage my time but it doesn’t mean I don’t suffer. You have highs and lows. I am driven.”[QQ] [QQ] KPMG’S Pryce: “One tends to be considered to be a little of an oddity, particularly at the higher level”[QQ] Vicky Pryce is chief economist and strategy partner at KPMG, where she has worked for the last 13 years. “Quite a lot of the partners you deal with are men, and in industry too, quite a lot of the clients are men,” she says. “There should be more women in consulting, and in industry.[QQ] There should be people who represent a greater cross-section of society.[QQ] One tends to be considered to be a little of an oddity, particularly at the higher level.” However, Pryce says that there is a lot of effort being made in KPMG to try to make sure women stay with the firm, for example, with flexitime initiatives.[QQ] “People have risen through the ranks even though they have been working consistently three or four days a week,” she says. “They have not lost out and that’s brilliant.” Pryce has five children. “Juggling between family and work can be stressful,” she says. “You have to be able to withstand the pressure more than any man would have to. It’s more obvious if you fail and that could be one of the reasons people drop out.” But she believes there can be career advantages in being a woman. “Because you are a woman, people potentially remember what you say. But that means you almost have to be at your best all the time and that, again, puts pressure on you.” [QQ] Sarah Perrin is a freelance journalist

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