While an increasing number of women are pursuing careers in consulting, many consulting companies are struggling to recruit and retain female talent. As such, there's a wide gender divide that affects the industry.
But there are plenty of good reasons why more women should pursue consulting, despite the odds. Here are five female leaders in consulting you should know, and what the industry looks like for women if you're interested in pursuing a consulting career yourself.
Women Leaders in Consulting
Despite the obvious lack of female leaders in consulting, over the last 12 years, Consulting magazine has set out to recognize the role of women in consulting.
"While it’s impossible to quantify, industry data tells us women make up about 27 percent of the profession; however, we’re certain their impact is significantly greater — and growing every year," the magazine writes. "Women continue to make a profound difference to both their clients and their firms."
Here are five women from Consulting magazines' list who are stemming the tides.
1. Debbie Simpson
Debbie Simpson was awarded lifetime achievement recognition from Consulting magazine. Simpson began her career at 23 years old, telling Consultant magazine that she knew she wanted to learn a lot and build a solid foundation for a career in business. She didn't know then that she'd go on to become the chief financial officer, head of functions, senior partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group.
Before Boston Consulting Group, she worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers for 16 years, nine of which were spent as a partner. And she led the Northeast region’s international tax team for several years and served on the U.S. Board of Directors.
2. Kara Murphy
Kara Murphy was awarded for leadership in Consulting magazine's list. Murphy, who is a partner at Bain & Company, joined as a summer associate in 2000 because of the firm’s outstanding culture, team-oriented environment and strong private equity practice — and because the general manager training was exciting to her, she told Consultant magazine
“Like many, I assumed my time at Bain would be short, a springboard to future opportunities; but as the years went by, I found that my love for the job seemed to grow,” Murphy said. “I feel very lucky to be a Bainie.”
Today, she also serves as the co-head of the firm’s Healthcare Private Equity Team, which she founded in 2008. And she is a co-author of the annual Healthcare Private Equity report.
3. Ashley Hartley
Ashley Hartley was also awarded for leadership in Consulting magazine's list. She serves as senior director with Protiviti and as the leader of its Knowledge Services function, which helps employees seamlessly share information and collaborate with global clients.
She told the magazine that her greatest personal or professional achievement was helping to build Protivit from the start, saying that “it was a natural fit for her from the beginning” and adding that she's "very proud of [the firm's] clients’ satisfaction and employees’ satisfaction and... of [her] little part in building and sustaining that culture.”
4. Cindy Gentry, Mercer
Cindy Gentry was awarded for her client services in Consulting magazine's list. A management consulting firm recruited Gentry out of graduate school. There, she was focusing on helping large-scale businesses with their projects relating to health care delivery systems and state and federal health insurance programs.
Since then, Gentry went on to become a senior partner and client manager with Mercer and now has more than 30 years of experience in developing client-focused human resource and process improvement solutions, according to the magazine.
“I believe that careers are not linear paths; they are like an obstacle course, designed to present disparate challenges that help you to learn about yourself [and] that allow you to leverage your intrinsic strengths and through repeated successes foster the confidence to truly know and trust your own judgment,” she told the magazine.
5. Neeti Bhardwaj, AT Kearney
Neeti Bhardwaj was recognized as a future leader in Consulting magazine's list. Bhardwaj came to the United States back in 2006 to pursue her MBA, but her plan was always to go back to India once she'd done so. But life had other plans for her.
“My only opportunity to experience corporate America was during my summer internship at school; so, when I got a summer internship offer from A.T. Kearney, I leaped as it provided an avenue to experience two industries at the same time,” Bhardwaj told Consulting magazine. “Little did I know, that the summer was just a start.”
After an offer to join the company after completing her studies, Bhardwaj went on to work for A.T. Kearny full time and is now a principal with the company, leads the firm's Women's Network and serves as a member of the Executives’ Club of Chicago.
Resources for Women in Consulting
Here are some organizations, groups, conferences and scholarships to check out if you're interested in a career in finance, yourself.
LinkedIn Groups and Meetups
- Women in Consulting
- Women in Coaching & Consulting
- Consulting Chicks
- WISE Women's Business Center
- Women in Consulting: San Francisco/Bay Area
- Women in Consulting: DC
Conferences for Women in Consulting
Scholarships for Women in Consulting
- McKinsey & Company Next Generation Women Leaders
- Oliver Wyman Women’s Scholarship
- Boston Consulting Group Scholarship
- Bain & Company True North Scholarship for Women
Career Opportunities for Women in Consulting
The fact of the matter is: There aren't many women in consulting.
A report, “The Road Less Traveled: Why Women’s Path to Partnership in Consulting Firms is Still Not Straight,” published by NBI Consulting and Source and based on interviews with women in partner- and board-level positions with the world’s largest consulting firms, delves into why there are so few female leaders in the consulting. It found that, despite the many initiatives intended to retain female talent, the results of these efforts are disappointing.
The three major strategy houses, Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company and Boston Consulting Group, for example, have been making efforts to increase the percentage of women in their ranks.
"Bain is raising the bar on how we think about long-term careers — we are moving from just supporting our women to be successful to ensuring that every woman at Bain truly thrives in her career," reads the company site. "To us, thriving is more than just day-to-day success on the job; it is about enabling our women to grow and flourish in both their professional and personal lives. Thriving is a highly individual journey and Bain is focused on enabling every woman to thrive on her own path, based on her own professional and personal priorities. In addition, women at Bain across every industry, consulting service and geography are making a huge impact daily for our clients. Their expertise and thought leadership are what fuel Bain’s impressive success."
Bain has been recognized for its advancement of women, continuously named to Working Mother's list of 100 Best Companies.
Likewise, McKinsey & Company's McKinsey Women is a global firm-wide network of female consultants that the company describes as "a powerful resource that provides formal and informal mentoring, training and relationship-building opportunities" while fostering local connections and delivering local programs to help women connect, learn and grow. In fact, McKinsey & Company is responsible for an annual Women in the Workplace report in collaboration with LeanIn.org, too.
And, a few years ago, Boston Consulting Group launched a program called the Apprenticeship in Action, which is an initiative to recognize and leverage women's strengths and, as such, boost job satisfaction and leadership roles for women within the company.
Nonetheless, the percentage of full-time permanent female management stands at just 20 percent at Bain & Company, 16 percent at McKinsey & Company and 25 percent at Boston Consulting Group, according to 2016 filings with the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).
But, even beyond the emphasis on gender diversity, there are plentiful reasons for women to pursue careers in consulting, from flexibility to great benefits. And Fairygodboss rounded up nine reasons to go into consulting, according to real reviews from women working in some of the world's best consulting firms.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreportand Facebook.