I know from experience that there is a massive female talent pool in strategy consulting. So why aren’t there more women in leadership roles? I’ve worked in China and the U.S. I’ve worked at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and now at Accenture Strategy. In both organizations, and in both countries, at the consultant level, women are in the majority—so much so that when I worked at BCG China, we used to joke that what we really needed there was a men’s initiative, such was the dominance of females.
In all the major cities I’ve worked in—Beijing, Shanghai and New York—men are in the minority until you reach the level of senior management. Then it’s a different story. I suppose you could say that with so much female talent bubbling under, it’s only a matter of time until women are in the ascendancy at the top flight too. But I think it’s important that they are seen to be so now. We need role models who inspire us, and who we can aspire to be.
At the moment, I think companies are doing different things to try to encourage women to pursue senior leadership roles. In spite of this, there are still other obstacles for women to overcome. For a few, it’s the family thing. Some find it hard to balance the competing needs of raising a family and climbing the career ladder. But a much bigger issue is that, because so few women are promoted to leadership positions, there are a fewer number of role models for women to look up to in the early stages of their careers. The clear message they are being sent is that if only a few women make it to the top, there must be some pretty tough obstacles ahead. It’s not a good message.
Establishing a clear pathway for women to succeed is what is needed. A lot of firms, I think, have tried to introduce and encourage a greater degree of flexibility, in terms of lifestyle and working patterns. This is to be applauded—but any resulting degree of success remains to be seen.
One thing I do find useful is having a strong female peer support network. Also, the women in leadership roles need to be actively involved in encouraging those below them to take the step up. There is a lot of doubt among my peer group that they can make it. Doubt is a powerful force. Until more is done to combat this, organizations will find that they will continue to hemorrhage some of their most resourceful talent for the simple reason that they are not doing enough to reassure women that their investment will pay off. It’s a shame. But this is what’s happening.