Women in Consulting
Two-Part Series Recap
The first women-in-consulting session was an inspiring discussion between three exceptional women consultants: Chelsea, Hema, and Taylor. Chelsea Snipes is at McKinsey & Company, based in Houston, and received an MBA at Rice Business School. Hema Manjunath received a PhD in Molecular Biology and currently is at BCG with a focus on global health, education, and life science. Taylor Thul is at Bain & Company and received an FNP and PhD in Nursing.
The first discussion point was regarding advice for women during the recruiting process. Chelsea recommended using the hand-raise feature in zoom meetings to make sure your ideas are heard. Hema emphasized the importance of mentors as well as putting yourself out there (etc. sending a cold email). Taylor suggested emailing recruiters at firms to learn more about different opportunities. She emphasized the point that firms are looking for candidates with diverse backgrounds, especially those with advanced degrees, and so highlighting one’s background and technical skills as strengths are important
The significance of women leaders in one’s consulting career was then discussed. Chelsea and Hema underlined how seeing women in leadership roles and championing other women colleagues really empowered her. She also brought up an interesting point that women bring different types of leadership that vary from the stereotypical leadership definition of decisive and strong. Leadership can be strong yet empathic, kind, and warm – it is a mixture of qualities that often are overlooked and undermined. Taylor talked about how seeing women leaders gives a good example of fitting personal goals along with professional goals. She touched on the point that greater representation is making a huge positive impact but there is still a long way to go.
Chelsea advises challenging oneself to have conversations with people of different roles and leadership positions. Hema agreed on this point of making time on the calendar to meet colleagues and mentors. Taylor also emphasized on cultivating connections as they are crucial to understanding how you can improve your skills and help you to grow both professionally as well as personally.
The conversation then delved into workplace and gender inequality experiences. In most cases, these experiences are usually from the client side rather than one’s own team or firm. There was one anecdote where the partner and the consultants left the room when a higher up from the client side commented rudely on the consultant's accent. Chelsea, Hema, and Taylor underscored the importance of taking advantage of the resources available to speak about one’s experiences.
The second women-in-consulting included another exciting panel of phenomenal consultants across various firms. Kyler Tormey is a Life Sciences specialist at L.E.K Consulting at Boston. Catherine Shao has a background in biology with a PhD from Baylor College and currently is a consultant at Health Advances. Sandra Steensels has a focus on biomedical sciences, having done her PhD at KU Leuven and post doc at Weill Cornell Medicine, and currently is a consultant with IQVIA, based in New York.
The first discussion topic was regarding challenges that may prevent women from going into consulting. Sandra mentioned the challenge of work-life balance since there is a preconception that it can be difficult and competitive. Kyler also talked about the lack of representation that can trickle down to the recruitment process, so it is important to choose the firm carefully and to see that they have a good mentorship and support system. Catherine discussed the importance of joining consulting because it fits your professional goals and not because of the name or prestige.
Sandra encouraged us to push forward for our goals and not to shy away from questions or feel like we should make ourselves smaller. Catherine touched upon the high percentage of women consultants (51%) and that it’s important to have supportive mentors around you, particularly women leaders. Kyler and Sandra mentioned that working with client relationship building can be challenging since most are male-dominated and so conversations can be towards certain topics that aren't relatable for her. Therefore, it can be helpful to learn more about those topics to understand and connect with her client better and be diplomatic in informal situations.
The consultants then talked about each firm’s representation with more than 30-40% on average to be female. But, there can be some discrepancies across certain sectors and projects like industrial versus life-sciences, which is more equally distributed.
There are various policies and initiatives to encourage women representation such as DIE (Diversity, Inclusion, Equity) for Health Advances as discussed by Catherine. Sandra talked about women mentors being helpful in quicker promotions and career progressions as well as organization, women-inspired-network, to foster women mentorship and leadership. Kyler mentioned an assigned career-specific mentor as well as a women's network to promote retention.
The conversation moved onto discussing the culture of mentorship at each firm. At LEK, Kyler talks about a career-mentorship coach to answer day-to-day questions as well as having conversations with both male and female mentors (ways to combat microaggression and ways to insert yourself in small talk conversations). Catherine also had both male and female mentors and was proactive in meeting with them periodically. She particularly has coffee chats with women leaders that she closely works with to understand how to ask questions and advice on managing professional and personal goals. Sandra discusses a mentorship tree (DL – development lead, development lead head, etc.) with multiple mentors at different levels as well as coffee chats with mentors you connect with.
Sandra talked about microaggressions often happening in more informal settings and often that she brushes off at the time. Kyler also agreed on this point that at the time you often brush off but realize later to make a bigger point of the situation. There was one situation where she and another female colleague didn’t feel included in a conversation. Therefore, she recommends talking with a male colleague or leader you feel comfortable sharing with so that the situation doesn’t happen again. Catherine brought up a colleague’s situation where her suggestions were doubted by a male colleague unprofessionally and this was addressed once it was communicated to a higher-authority in the team.