Is the management consulting industry still a male-dominated field or have women in consulting caught up? For the last years, consulting firms have been working hard on being attractive employers for women, because they themselves benefit from having the greatest possible diversity among their employees. BCG’s research on the benefits of gender diversity found that companies with workforces and leadership teams that are balanced between men and women are more creative, innovative, and resilient; and that the women at these companies have higher levels of engagement and ambition (Source).
But how is the situation really? How do young female candidates feel when they are approaching a career in consulting? If you are interested in getting started in consulting as a woman and still have doubts, we have summarized all the necessary information for you. Together with our female case interview coaches, we want to clear up prejudices, show you what you can expect as a woman in consulting and give you tips on how you will succeed!
Many clients nowadays would like to see more women in their consulting team. Why is that?
- Studies have shown that teams which have a greater proportion of women deliver better quality solutions, to both the client and the organizations’ end customers
- Women are perceived to be faster at developing relationships and are more effective coaches
- Women are seen as more reflective which helps consulting teams to think more laterally and to consider the longer term
- Many clients think that a project run by a woman is likely to keep to time and budget
- Female project managers are considered to be better at stakeholder management than their male counterparts
Consulting is a domain marked with many prejudices, also concerning female consultants and their working conditions. We asked our female coaches what they have to say about the five most common convictions. Are they myths or are they true?
Consulting Is an "Old Boys Club"
Historically, management consulting was a domain dominated by rich white men – as most businesses were, due to the historical circumstances. Women and other minorities were prevented to succeed and enter this industry. How is it like today?
As a Woman in Consulting, You Can't Have a Family AND a Successful Career
One of the most common concerns amongst women when considering a future in management consulting is their belief that they will have to choose family or a successful career, and that they cannot have both. Oftentimes, young women are not willing to give up one or the other and hesitate to make a career move into consulting.
A similar number of male and female graduates are typically accepted for entry-level positions. However, the higher the level, the lower the percentage of female consultants gets. Why is that?
There Is a Huge Gender Pay Gap in Consulting
The consulting industry’s prejudice of being male-dominated usually comes with the belief that there is a huge gender pay gap. Overall, most consulting firms indeed show a gender pay gap. However, this pay gap is not based on unequal pay but on the lack of women in senior roles. A female and male consultant in the same position will receive the same pay.
Consulting Nowadays Favors Women
When discussing gender equality measures, sooner or later the question arises whether these measures are finally favoring women and putting men into an unequal position. For example, all larger firms have internal networks specific for women, geared towards supporting their female consultants. Some have specific female quota goals which can in a specific case favor a woman to get a position.
Female Consultants Are Afraid of Male-Dominated Client Environments
Consulting firms serve large multinational companies that, in many countries, have been historically dominated by men (especially at the top management level). This could have a two-fold effect: i) discourage women from applying to consulting, and ii) create insecurity among female consultants.
In order to remove barriers for women in consulting, it is first important to be aware of the five key gender diversity metrics. By keeping these factors in mind, each consulting firm can identify weaknesses and areas to improve.
To improve these metrics, there are specific measures that are already being implemented by many consultancies that target the main issues discussed in this article:
- Coaching and mentoring programs to help women advance within the firms and to identify concerns and issues they may have before they resign
- Networks for women and women-only recruitment events
- Company culture programs to nurture more open and empowering work cultures and to educate project managers to accommodate and juggle needs within their team
- Flexible working hours, part-time and remote work
- Maternity/paternity leave and after-leave support
- Childcare support and over-time childcare reimbursement
- Support for nursing moms in the office with special amenities and rooms
Examples of Consulting Firms Stressing Gender Diversity
Many large consultancies have already done quite a progress within the last few years. You can read more on their websites:
Together with our female consulting coaches, we have developed a list of tips that will help you along your career into consulting. These pieces of advice are not exclusively applicable for women, but they will get you some guidance.
An alarming number of women in consulting internally see themselves as inferior. If you got invited to the interview or you have gotten the job, you have achieved something! You have earned your right to speak up and to believe that you are equal, if not even superior in some respects, to men. You need to believe that with all your being and don’t allow anyone to treat you as if you are less significant!
If you want to climb the ladder of success, you will need to build up a good reputation. For this, you must work very hard, especially during your first year in management consulting. Be extremely reliable, always be over-prepared for meetings and over-deliver on deliverables. Do exceptional work for a few senior people within the firm to prove that you are exceptional!
Women in consulting or in business in general need to be tough and able to deal with people being rude or inappropriate. Focus on your job first and later, when you become senior manager or partner, you will be able to limit the number of biased people.
Women often tend to behave competitively among each other. Instead, you can decide to lift each other up and support one another along the way. This can only benefit you and your career!
Try to connect with the client, engagement manager and partner, also on a personal level. Look at the project from their point of view and try to do things that are important from their perspective. Make a huge effort to become a go-to person for a project.
Take advantage of the opportunities that consulting does offer. Use the movement to promote diversity and the opportunities it offers you to progress further in your career. Attend women in consulting events and approach senior male leaders that are open to support young women in consulting.
As a consultant, you should have both great hard and soft skills in order to be successful. At the end of the day, you are dealing with clients and teams all the time. Continuously make efforts to identify what skills you should improve on – whether it is a specific knowledge or expertise you want to develop or social skills you want to work on.
A lot of female candidates have doubts on an appropriate dress code for their job and job interview. Here are some things you should pay attention to when picking your outfit (of course, always keep in mind how you feel comfortable, as well!):
- Outfit: For your job interview, it is better to play it safe and go for the business look. This means blazer plus business dress or skirt/pants and a blouse.
- Dress length: If you decide to wear a dress or skirt, make sure it is not too short as this will appear girlish and unprofessional. Check the skirt length while sitting, because the skirt usually slides upwards and will look much shorter.
- Colors: You don’t need to wear the classic business colors grey, blue, black or brown tone-in-tone. Feel free to add some color, but don’t overdo it.
- Shoes: Choose an elegant pair of shoes, but make sure that you can walk comfortably in them. An elegant pump with a heel height of up to 2.5 inches can look professional, but also flat shoes.