It’s time for the female shift in consulting – Six levers for more women at the top

The #ConsultantForConsultants

It’s time for the female shift in consulting – Six levers for more women at the top

May 26, 2020

Susanne Mathony Femal EMpowerment

Women are still underrepresented at the top of consulting firms. #ConsultantForConsultants Susanne Mathony writes in her bi-weekly column for which levers could serve as career accelerators for women whilst the COVID19 crisis and thereafter.

As the COVID19 pandemic continues to unsettle the world I ask myself:
Is it legitimate in times like these to encourage an entire industry – consulting firms – to take the lead and play a pioneering role for the #nextnormal? Yes, I believe so.

Professional Services is my inspiring professional home since two decades now. Hence I am aware of its full potential. They are extremely important right now. Not only through their thought leadership and their experts who help navigate corporations and economies around the globe out of the greatest post-war recession, but also as a possible career booster for women.

Why now?
Maybe as we are facing a historical tipping point. Maybe as women experience more stiff headwind in the current crisis.

Julia Jäkel, CEO of the publishing house Gruner + Jahr, published her byliner “Zurück in der Männerwelt” (“Back in the men’s world”) end of April in the German weekly ‘Die ZEIT’ and posted it simultaneously on LinkedIn. Amongst other things she states:

“Home office in this crisis means for thousands of women primarily home and less office. This is especially bitter as careers are being made now.”

Her conclusion: “Just as the virus suddenly makes our air clearer and the sky bluer, our economic and social realities become more apparent. We women are so much less far than we thought.”

Her feature generated 4,800 Likes and 730 comments since then. It obviously struck a nerve – the fear that women could disproportionately become the losers of the pandemic and face a backflash into the fifties. Barbara Lutz, the inventor of the ‚Frauen-Karriere-Index‘ criticizes that the ‘glass ceiling in Germany is at the level of a 70s bungalow‘ and pleads that corporate cultures would now have to change from the inside.

The German magazine SPIEGEL titled the interview with the green co-chiefs Annalena Baerbock and Robert Habeck with “Women stay put at home as this was the prerequisite for the shutdown”.

There is still no gender parity in the consulting world

According to the BDU (Bundesverband Deutscher Unternehmensberater / Federal association of German consulting firms), there are 18,360 consulting firms in Germany without women in leadership functions. Only 2,040 consulting firms are managed by a woman. Broken down by career levels, women make up 43% of junior consultants, but only 19% of top leadership positions.

The WGMB (Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft für Management und Beratung / Scientific Society for Management and Consulting) even assumes there are only 15% of women at senior partner/partner level in the top consulting firms.

So far, neither McKinsey, BCG or Bain has a female global CEO. At EY, on the other hand, two women are directing the fate of the auditor: Ute Benzel for DACH and Julie Teigland for EMEAI. Accenture has Julie Sweet at the top since September 2019. The consulting firm is the winner of this year’s “Women’s Career Index” with reference to exemplary work in the areas of diversity, new leadership and digital transformation.

Now is the time for the era of the ‘womanomics’

Thinking about the consequences of COVID19 for business and leadership, there are six potential levers to work as a ‘career accelerator’ for women in consulting. They may take some time, may seem too optimistic or utopian to some, but they can be implemented.

1. Diversity is paying off

McKinsey already postulated in 2018: “The more diverse, the more successful” and referred to a statistical significant correlation between diversity and profitability. This correlation is particularly high for the proportion of women in top management. Companies that are performing particularly well here are 21% more likely to be above average successful.
BCG claimed something similar relevant in “How Diverse Leadership Teams Boost Innovation“: Companies with an above-average diversity in their management teams recorded innovation-driven revenues that were 19 percentage points higher than those of companies with below-average leadership diversity; i.e. 45% of total revenues compared to only 26%.
So if the following applies: Diversity generates more revenues and more innovation, the logic for consulting firms can only be “Walk the talk!”

2. Meet your client requests

A survey from Source Global about the relevance of gender diverse teams made it crystal clear: This is crucial for 72% of clients at C-level when commissioning consultants. Only 5% considered this to be unimportant. The arguments for more women in consulting teams that applied before COVID19 will be even more relevant now. For example, studies have shown that teams with a higher proportion of women provide better solutions for both clients and end consumer. Women are perceived as more effective coaches in transformation processes and are seen as more reflective in looking at the bigger picture and long-term thinking.

3. Greater flexibility of working models

Whilst in lockdown, the economy learned #newwork at warp speed and realized:
Contrary to all expectations #remotework works. This shared learning curve will clearly help to make future workplace and time models more flexible. Not only in Professional Services where mothers (like fathers) are severely struggling with the balancing act of work and childcare obligations. But it has also changed the client’s perception: In times of crisis, they have experienced – and still do – that their consultants deliver high successful projects from individual home offices instead of in the usual team rooms on site.

4. Ecosystems, networks and team work as paradigm for organizations

The global disruption caused by COVID19 questions traditional organizational structures. Line organizations and silos seem to no longer work in some places. The new paradigm: empowerment, speed and agility. The latter defines the ability to quickly reconfigure strategies, structures, processes, employees and technologies in order to create value-adding and value-protecting opportunities for the restructuring of the economy.
Women in consulting will not only push this on behalf of their clients, but also strive for female empowerment in their own organizations.

5. Digitization: When, if not now!

If something is emerging in this phase of maximum uncertainty, it is the breakthrough of digitization. According to BCG, the ‘bionic organization’ with the maximum potential of digitization is one of the seven characteristics of #newnow. There is already an increasing demand for corresponding consulting services. According to Source Global, there is also a “commercial case” in favor of women. For 74% of clients with great responsibility for digital transformation, gender diversity has a positive effect. The majority even said that gender diverse teams lead to higher quality outcomes

6. Overall change in social norms and role models

During the peak of the COVID19-lockdown, more than 1 billion children worldwide had no access to any forms of professional care from kindergarten to nursery to school. There have never been so many fathers who have had – and still have – to take care of children plus do time-consuming home schooling. What appeared to some as an unprecedented additional burden parallel to home office was extremely enriching for others. This experience has the potential to erode old social norms and lead to more equality. This higher level of support by men has leveled one of the biggest hurdles for women seeking a particularly time-consuming partner position.


Professional Services will not be able to change social norms on their own. But there are specific activities and measures they can take to push women’s careers in the post-COVID19 era even more than in the past. As McKinsey is stating:

Stop seeing the return as a destination. Start imagining the business as it should be in the next normal“.

Women will claim this.

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