Those who demand visibility should seek the limelight: An appeal to female consultants

The #ConsultantForConsultants

Those who demand visibility should seek the limelight: An appeal to female consultants

January 21, 2021

positonierung für Frauen im consulting
Source: Ostap Senyuk – Unsplash

Why don’t women in Professional Services dare to be much more in the spotlight and leave the stage to their male colleagues? In my new column on Consulting.de, I am making a strong plea for more visibility of female consultants.

One of my most-clicked columns last year was asking “The Highlander or the Musketeers?” It is about the presence of professional services players on LinkedIn and the rules of the game – including the killer question:

Is it strategically more savvy to push the #SocialCEO/Country Manager or individual consultants?

What I’m noticing more and more after my personal branding workshops: There are gender differences. In some cases, female consultants act completely different than their male counterparts.

And that’s what drives me.

Why do I experience so much reticence and do Julie Sweet, CEO Accenture, (143,407 followers) or Julie Teigland, Head of EMEIA EY (15,720 followers) remain the exception?

Why do male consultants – regardless of their hierarchical level – throw themselves into their social media positioning with much more verve?

Currently, personal branding shows 14.3 million hits on Google. But why are female protagonists in the industry still clearly shying away? To date, the gender ratio on LinkedIn is 57 percent men vs. 43 percent women.

Here are my five hypotheses, based on my observations as a #ConsultantforConsultants – without any claim to statistical validity or completeness.

With regards to their social media positioning women in professional services are still often …

1. … too humble

After social media presentations and LinkedIn team coachings, participants often reach out to me asking for tips or a review of their personal profiles. The amazing fact: 95% of the requests are coming from men. They don’t care that advisory work cannot be free of charge. And they may not even have a budget for it yet. They simply ask.

Women don’t do that. But they should. After all, it doesn’t cost anything to ask.

2. … too perfectionist

Sometimes female consultants get in their own way: They intensively rethink their social media presence and the tonality of each post. To put it colloquially: Men (sometimes) let five be six.
Please do understand me correctly: I certainly don’t invite female consultants to a non-thought-out content strategy.

But social media works according to its own laws. One of them is speed. Another is regularity. So no matter how perfectly formulated the one post per week may be, the algorithm never achieves the reach of men who post three times a week.
So at this point, female consultants should certainly embrace the 80/20 rule: If content, context, and purpose are right, then it’s okay to post, even if only two other eyes are looking at it instead of eight.

3. …too worried about being reduced to their looks

Are the current LinkedIn stars of the DAX Herbert Diess (VW) and Tim Höttges (Deutsche Telekom) – classic Hollywood beaus á la George Clooney? Do they think about this for a single second when they present selfies in their personal feed to their 152,352 and 95,085 followers, respectively? Both probably no! 

And business women? The recent discussion about Kamala Harris’ outfit on the cover of the US Vogue painfully shows how women are much more likely to be reduced to their appearance than their male counterparts.
Accordingly, they are often hesitant to take selfies. Yet it is precisely those that generate incredible reach. Here, too, the 80/20 rule helps: If content and intention are right, you can post, even if the styling is only 80 percent perfect.

4. … too busy

As many studies have highlighted already: In the COVID19-pandemic, women are more likely than men to carry the double and triple burden of a job, homeschooling the kids and running the household. Often, this imbalance also leads to a lack of time for their visibility on LinkedIn. As a result, topical work-related posts by women have decreased significantly over the past ten months. Those of men, on the other hand, have increased.

Sure, you have to carve out two to three hours per week for LinkedIn. But it is an incredibly efficient chance to convert time into visibility.

5. … not proactive enough

Whilst consulting professional services firms, where ‘Corporate Ambassador’ programs are set up, I primarily see men who proactively bring themselves into play. Female consultants, on the other hand, almost never ask for this support paid for by the company. There are extremely few who insist on their own visible presence in the communications portfolio.

Incidentally, Lina Babcock reports something similar in her bestseller “Women don’t ask.” Compared to 57 percent of men, only 7 percent of women conducted salary negotiations at their first job.

So what can female consultants do for their Social Me?

1. Be truly distinctive and different

Professional Services is becoming more and more commoditized. Therefore, your distinctiveness – your brand – is your most important attribute. Be the ‘face’ that the market and relevant stakeholders perceive.

This is where human-to-human marketing might help you:
With your ‘Social Me‘ you position yourself as a human being, a ‘consultant of choice‘ who is trusted instead of an abstract brand.
Always keep in mind the parallel to Watzlawick’s ‘you cannot not communicate‘; i.e.:
You cannot not present yourself
Even a non-presence in social media is a telling statement. Even if it is only towards the purchasing department or the client where you are managing a large project.

So you’d better take care of your personal branding and positioning yourself. Perhaps with the help of storytelling – you might be also interested in my feature “Modernes Storytelling: Was Berater von Cowboys lernen können“.

2. Act as an active mentor and corporate influencer

As a mentor (and active corporate influencer), you are a real asset to your employer and its employer branding

Women are the largest potential group for professional services. Therefore retaining existing women and recruiting new ones is a clear gain. And as a mentor, you actively help more women break through the glass ceiling.

It is true that the proportion of female university graduates among new hires is now 49 percent (source: BDU, 2020). But there is massive attrition on the way up. According to WGMB, the share of women at the top management level is only 15 percent.

Consequently, being a successful mentor also includes the own social media positioning, if only as a proof of success and visibility to clients and targets.

3. Never end as a living press release

Posts exclusively about one’s own consulting or accounting firm brand – possibly even written exclusively by the social media editorial team or external agencies – are less likely to attract dedicated followers. Hence an ideal ‘social me’ should transport a maximum of 70 percent company related topics. The rest is up to you and your own personal topics that fit your brand core.

If you should be accused of self-promotion because you post a smashing quote card with your picture or a selfie in a professional context four times a month: Shrug your shoulders. What’s legitimate for male consultants can’t be wrong for female ones.

4. Support your #SocialCEO

Certainly, the #SocialCEO of a strategy consultant or Big 4 player remains the key person for reputation management and the competitive differentiation.

But he/she alone is simply not enough. In keeping with my cherished Musketeer principle of “one for all, all for one,” you help your CEO by visibly standing by his/her side with a strong social media presence.

And if your CEO is a man, that’s even more true, both in terms of diversity, culture change, agility, and client and employee acquisition.

5. Get advice

Stop seeing the return as a destination. Start imagining the business as it should be in the next normal” is a key quote in my feature “It’s time for the female shift in consulting – Six levers for more women at the top“.

Why not do it in the #nextnormal a little like men? Get competent people on your team for everything you cannot do perfectly yourself (yet). Men in particular are excellent at networking and bringing in external experts when needed. Women in professional services could learn a thing or two here.

This way, you are guaranteed to become the curator of your own story and determine your own narrative. And last but not least: Have fun doing it!

Let us have a chat about your authentic personal branding with attitude! #FemaleEmpowerment has been close to my heart for more than two decades now!

view Consulting.de article (in German)