Consulting roles need to change, not the people doing them

10 May 2016

If you look at the top levels of consulting firms they are disproportionately male. This often leads to the assumption that too many women are leaving careers in consulting. That isn’t the case at PwC – we don’t have a retention issue, we have a progression challenge.

Fee-earning, client facing roles offer the greatest opportunities for career progression in a consulting environment, but sadly they are also the roles that are often seen as not viable once people start a family or have other caring responsibilities. If we really want to solve the progression question, we need to make some fundamental changes to these roles so that they are attractive to both women and men, now and in the future. Having said this, this is not purely a female or a parenting / caring issue.  We are seeing more people demanding flexible working conditions.  

So rather than people moving into other roles when their circumstances and priorities change, we need to think about why we can’t adapt the role to their circumstances. We need to challenge the assumption that consulting means working on client site five days a week, large amounts of travel at the drop of a hat, being at your clients’ beck and call 24/7 and being judged on the number of hours you’re in the office.

As consultants, we should be showcasing to our clients new ways of working and how to value difference.

That’s why we’ve joined forces with the Management Consultancies Association (MCA), She’s Back and other large consulting firms to understand what barriers exist and to work together to bring about real change.

The research results indicate that women want to work in consulting, but find the limited opportunities for flexible working, irregular hours and high volumes of travel a barrier. We are currently trialling new ways of working in our consulting business, but we need to be bolder and get to the point where flexible working becomes the norm.

We also need to make greater use of technology to achieve that flexibility. Technology advances mean that working remotely is easy, it is people’s attitudes that need to change. We know from our millennials research that graduates coming into consulting today expect to be able to work flexibly and be measured on outputs, rather than time in the office. That’s why we’ve introduced reverse mentoring in our consulting business, where partners are mentored by junior members of the team. This is an opportunity for senior people to understand how their teams want to work and make changes.

This is becoming less and less of a female only issue. We had 43 men at PwC take shared parental leave in the last year and as traditional caring roles change, we need to make sure that everybody can get the flexibility they need to make a role work for them.

We’re committed to creating a consulting business where all levels reflect the diversity seen throughout our business and the world in which we operate and have set ourselves gender and ethnicity targets to drive action. But if we want to make a real difference sooner, we need to be bolder and challenge the fundamentals of what a consulting role looks like. Until we start changing the roles, rather than trying to change the people doing them, we are very likely to be facing exactly the same picture in another 10 years’ time.

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