We have many of you ask us what it’s like to be a woman in consulting. How is the firm culture? Is there time to have a family and rise up the ranks inside a top firm? Today, Jenny Rae (ex-Bain) and Lisa (ex-McKinsey) get personal and have a candid conversation about their unique experiences as women in consulting. You may be surprised by what they share about their experiences, the support they received, and how consulting set them up to be pioneering women entrepreneurs.
Buckle in for an honest and real conversation. Jenny Rae Le Roux (ex-Bain) and Lisa Bright (ex-McKinsey) took some time to discuss their experience as women in consulting. Both agreed that consulting was a very positive experience that offered a lot of female-specific support; namely, they had good (mostly male) mentors along the way, heeded their advice, and successfully built a personal brand inside the firm based on top performance and strong interpersonal relationships. Below, some insights on how women can navigate the consulting world, and maximize their career progression opportunities.
But first, let’s do a little myth-busting. Maybe you have similar thoughts to Jenny Rae’s when she began her career:
- Consulting is full of young people.
- Most women phase out once they are prepare to start a family.
- The majority of women who have reached the top level have chosen to remain single and be all about their career.
We’re happy to tell you it’s not all true! “I was shocked at how conducive of a place it is for women to have families,” said Jenny Rae.
Consulting and a family life are not mutually exclusive!
But what about all the travel? See other myths here, but regarding women in consulting, one of her mentors said it best:
“Your authority in the organization will not be questioned, but you need to have authority over your schedule.” We know that male or female, as a junior consultant, this is most likely not possible. However, a key to success as a woman in consulting (especially one building on other hobbies or even a family outside of work) is to master your schedule as soon as you can. After moving to senior consultant (which can happen pretty quickly), take authority over your schedule, scheduling client meetings as able that are also conducive to your other priorities. We’ll be the first to admit it’s easier said than done, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible.
And the travel? Pick a flight that brings you home in time for that key soccer game or birthday party. As anything else, the firm won’t do that for you – it requires initiative and proper planning – but it is doable the higher you climb in the firm.
We’ve even heard of kids in the office with mom on Fridays. Overall, the consulting environment is notably conducive for women in various stages of life.
Personal and Professional Development Opportunities are Abundant
As you’re multitasking career and relationships, you’ll want to also be sure to take advantage of the support groups and events catered just towards women. Now more than ever, there is much to take advantage of.
“I was surprised by how many women-related programs including events and support groups.” – Lisa
There is generally an even ratio of men to women hired at consulting firms, yet there are a surprising number of events specifically for women. While it seems that there is more male representation at the partner level, there is equal opportunity in consulting for women to rise to partner, and perhaps more resources to take advantage of on their way there. Both Lisa and Jenny Rae referenced several mentors along the way who helped them advance, most of which were men. While the lack of female mentors was mentioned as a challenge, they took advantage of the female-specific events, groups, and sessions as an opportunity to glean from a diverse group of leaders and build a firm-wide network. In one such session, Jenny Rae met a speaker who focused on the unique language that women use and it “made a lifelong impression on her.”
Learning to navigate assumptions about women is a must
Male or female, you climb the ladder in consulting due to the quality of your work and relationships. How do you build strong relationships? By being aware of the language you use, and by managing people’s assumptions (yes, internal politics suck. But learning how to navigate these environments is a must).
The speaker that greatly impacted Jenny Rae stated that women’s more polite, diplomatic, gentle, and indirect language is often misperceived in a corporate setting as portraying less authority, less confidence, and less ability. As a result, the women at Bain Atlanta purposefully adjusted their tone and approach, even before the meeting was concluded.
The way women speak and interact is different, and may impact the way they are perceived. It’s not bad, and it might not be limiting in title, but to have a reputation of competence, they do need to adjust (fair or not). This simple switch in language, and tasks you accept, can make a huge difference.
Another of Jenny Rae’s wise mentors clued her in early to the importance of perception: “Usually people will have [different] assumptions about women. You have to be aware of what those assumptions are.”
For example, many men will assume women are good with people and strong in soft skills (ex: designing surveys and doing analyst calls). There is nothing wrong with these things, but if these assumptions are not attacked on Day 1, you may be stuck with “softer” work more often than not.
In your first three months, actively raise your hand for heavy analytics roles. Show that you have the chops to handle the gnarly numbers as well as the softer client-facing role. You’ll gain respect right away, and avoid being pigeonholed due to assumptions people may not even realize they hold. As a general rule (one we see women struggle with more), lead with data and information whenever you can. You’re building your brand as a top performer in the organization, and these tips will help get you there.