One of the biggest barriers to women reaching the most senior levels in strategy consulting organizations is the fact that there are far fewer women in those senior roles to start with. It’s only natural that people tend to look upward to find their role models. When women look upward, it’s imperative that they see some women have made it to the top within Accenture Strategy. This sends a clear and positive signal to them that it is possible to move beyond where they are now — that there is something to aspire to.
Some women in mid- to senior-level roles are at a point in their lives where they may be thinking about starting and raising a family. This is another challenge. How can they achieve a balance between the demands for their personal and professional lives? It’s not always easy in a professional services firm.
A further barrier is that people tend to prefer to mentor people who remind them of themselves. If I look down and see someone who reminds me of my younger self — a little Jin — I’ll feel like I’m much better equipped to coach her into becoming a senior leader. So with more men at the top, it’s often easier for men at the middle level to network and to get coaching than it is for women at the same level. Being empowered to build networks is very important.
The shortage of women in leadership roles cannot be resolved if the problem is only tackled by women. There are more male leaders as things stand now, and they set the parameters of how people should perform, behave and progress. There’s still an expectation that people in senior-level positions need to be able to work at any time, and in any place, and that expectation and operating model may not work for women at a certain stage in their lives. So, without lowering the performance bar, we need to focus on being flexible to enable women to perform and make a meaningful contribution to organizational success.
Check back soon to hear more from Jin Yu, and some of our other female leaders.