The representation of women in the corporate world in recent years has been trending in the upward direction. This was more pronounced at senior level positions. A recent research report of 2021 by Grant Thornton states that globally 31% of the senior positions are occupied by women. And more interestingly, India ranks third amongst its counterparts with 39% of women in senior management positions while the global average stands at 31%. What is even more encouraging to note is that Indian women occupy 47% of the C-suites compared to a global 26%. Women holding high positions has not been new as India has seen women leaders in several sectors from politics to corporate for a very long time. Though typical women traits like their intrinsic ability to lead from the front have enabled them to reach such positions, a significant contributor is the environment created by the organisations especially in recent times where conscious efforts are taken to bring in parity in gender. Organisations are spending significant time and effort in creating an inclusive culture to provide equal access to women to become leaders of the future and it is upto women to leverage such opportunities.
The above upward trend includes women in business consulting. An increasing trend could be noticed in the composition of women leaders in business consulting, but the rate of increase could be slow over the years. In general, the trend in consulting has been that the higher the ladder, the lower the number of women. A 2019 survey reveals that the rate of female Partners in top business consulting firms was barely 20%. This number is most likely to be lower when a higher number of consulting firms are considered. Several reasons could be attributed to this. Consulting as a business brings to fore several set of challenges like extended hours of work based on client’s demands, frequent and unplanned travel; and project based onsite involvement. The ability to sustain in this environment given the multiple roles women are expected to play is questioned often. Unless the woman receives support equally both at profession and at home, continuity becomes difficult.
The current environment where the business landscape is undergoing a drastic change due to the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected women in businesses to a large extent. Housework and caregiving were found to be the most prominent reasons. In the US close to 2 million women are contemplating leaving the workforce or taking leave of absence. Should this happen, there will be fewer women leaders in the future and companies have to face the risk of losing women at leadership.
Given all these, how can women grow in consulting business? From personal experiences, the key factor that can make this happen is one's own ‘passion for work’. To follow their passion, women tend to break away from their monotony and think out of the box to fix their problems. An understanding peer group which can pitch in while in need can greatly support a women’s career development. Reaching out to women coaches to develop a well-planned chart of coaching methodologies for building leadership qualities can be attempted. Continuing to focus and enhance the skill set already developed will enable them to enrich themselves. Women would need to leverage the enabling environment created by the consulting firms like flexible working hours, support through emotional and physical well-being and exemptions from unplanned travel. In some cases, a break between projects may also be taken. Women also need to reduce their own pressure of feeling ‘always to be on’. This will enable them to take shorter and frequent breaks which will improve their productivity.
Alongside, consulting companies should also delink performance to the when, where and how much of work they are doing. When consulting companies recognise the scale of these challenges and help address these, they can not only retain women employees but also help in increasing the percentage in leadership positions. Today, a window of opportunity exists where in order to progress the consulting business, a more inclusive environment can be created which inturn will result in improved financial performance and sustainable growth.
Padma Priya is Partner, Public Sector.
The blog was first published on PeopleMatters