In my last blog, I spoke about Gender Inequality in Business, and the struggles many (if not all) women in consulting face in their careers. But there are two sides to every story, and this week I want to share the second part in that series – the good side.
A Push to Succeed
I began my career with 12 years in the federal public service, before moving on to join one of the big-5 consulting firms. I came out of government without any business experience. I had dabbled in entrepreneurship here and there, however, once at the firm, I learned about client service, bottom lines, marketing services and more. Suddenly I was responsible for producing multiple deliverables on-time and on-budget!
Aside from the technical business skills, having exposure to other senior consultants allowed me to observe, learn, and emulate. I learned how to act like a consultant: Stop waiting, go after things. Speak up, give fearless advice. Say yes first, then figure out how to do it.
It was a jarring difference from my time as a Public Servant, where senior leaders were the only ones expected to lead and speak in meetings. At a consulting firm, all consultants are expected to speak on the projects they are working on; encouraged to take up space. Everyone was expected to do their best work, to brainstorm, research, make calls, and solve the problem at hand.
There was a push to be creative, and innovative, and a push for doing your best.
A New View on Travel
An unexpected bonus for me was a new view on travel. I had travelled for pleasure, but travelling for business showed me a new way to see the world. I found myself welcomed into people’s lives and introduced to places and groups that would have been out of reach had I come as a tourist. It was a great opportunity to see how people live and work, and contribute to better understanding across cultures and borders.
This kind of travel became a big attraction for me, and changed how I travel on vacations as well.
Consulting offered an environment for accelerated learning. There was certainly never a dull moment! I began facilitating, and learned how to provide training by designing, delivering, and engaging people.
After a few years of “schooling” at the firm, I wanted to spread my wings and go deeper into certain areas that I felt particularly drawn to:
- Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
- Training in the so-called soft skills
- Facilitation of organizational change
I wanted to provide tailored services to clients; going deeper instead of wider. Consulting with a big-5 firm gave me the opportunity to build the foundation I needed to do so, in just 3 short years.
A Woman’s View at the Table
Consulting doesn’t just offer something for women; women bring a lot to the consulting table as well. Of course, I want to preface this by stating the obvious – I only know one side of this story, having only ever consulted as a woman! Also, I more often work with women because of the nature of my work.
I do know that women have been socialized to be more empathic, to put people at ease, build trust, and create safe spaces for conversations.
By speaking to people person-to-person instead of reaching into the toolkit for the go-to method it’s often possible to get to the heart of the matter. My mother used to tell me that it was important to have a variety of methods and tools available to us as professionals, so we can deftly turn to what each individual situation calls for.
Many women come into complex situations with less certainty than men, often have a willingness to ask questions, be surprised, and be humble. This allows us to achieve breakthroughs with organizations because organizations are human systems.
A friend of mine who is a financial advisor once shared with me that she was being told she was spending too much time with her clients, “but I have the biggest book at the firm.”
Taking the extra time to really get to know our clients gives us a unique advantage.
As a Black woman, I am often able to make a difference with and better understand the workplace challenges facing Black, Indigenous, and other People of Colour. Being racialized has grown into an advantage in the work that I do in organizations.
A Career That Works for Us as Individuals
It’s been more than 25 years now, so I guess you can say that the pros of being a woman in consulting outweigh the cons, at least for me! I particularly enjoy the flexibility, being able to choose which clients I want to work with, make my own schedule (to a point), and can take time off if needed without being viewed as uncommitted.
As consultants, we’re able to choose any career track we like, and our timeline is not judged against the timeline of others. We can expand or contract our portfolios as needed to achieve the life or financial goals we set for ourselves.
Being a woman in consulting certainly has its ups and downs, but if you are at all interested in learning more about the experiences of those in the field, I highly recommend watching this panel discussion I was fortunate enough to take part in on May 12, with CMC. The conversation was engaging, insightful, and informative.
Are you a woman in consulting? Are you a professional aspiring to a career in consulting? I’d love to hear your thoughts.