Breaking the bias: 7 women in consulting share their experiences

For International Women’s Day 2022, we asked members of the Proteus team to tell us which first-hand experiences and life lessons they would pass on to other women who may need to #BreakTheBias in a traditionally male-dominated industry.

Louise Thomas, Senior Consultant

“My main piece of advice for women in the business world is to be bold. Ask for what you want and don’t be afraid to negotiate. Research has shown that most women are faced with ‘imposter syndrome’ at least once in their career and can often feel like they are not ‘ready’ or may doubt their own judgement. That opportunity you know you could do but aren’t sure you have the experience on paper? Just go for it! Finding a few great mentors you admire throughout your career both within and external to your company can be a great way of having a sounding board for working through challenges and helping you build your case for things like this. Thinking “what advice would I give my friend if they were in this position?” can be helpful too.

It is also important to find your own style and your own way of being assertive which feels authentic to you! You don’t need to have the loudest voice in the room to make your point heard and be credible. Another key thing I have learnt is the importance of not shying away from difficult conversations which need to be had for fear of rocking the boat. It can feel very uncomfortable at first, but people often don’t realise the impact of their actions and brushing things under the rug does no one any good long term. Assuming positive intent can help to frame this as a positive thing when starting this type of conversation and will help to avoid triggering defensiveness.”

Bijal Datta, Principal Consultant

“I started my career in the Big 4, and left soon after getting married as, back then, consulting wasn’t the right environment for anyone, not just women, who wanted a bit of stability in their lives. Being told on a Friday that you would be working on a project in Switzerland for 6 months from Monday was really exciting when I was young, free and single; but not ideal when you want to see your partner in the evenings, and wanted sensible working hours to bring up a family. I came back into consulting 2 years ago when I joined Proteus, but made it clear that I wanted my clients to be London based. This condition was met, without any question, and I would advise women considering a career in consulting to feel confident to ask for the working conditions and an environment that work for you as an individual. If the organisation values you and your experience, they will support you.

Covid has also brought another dimension to consulting where working from home or hybrid working means you can work on global projects, be flexible with different time zones and fit it all in without having to get on the red eye flight from Heathrow on a Monday morning. Hybrid working has allowed me and my husband to be there for the kids when they get home from school, and be able to flex my working hours around the family and allowed me to work across multiple clients more seamlessly. Working for a consulting firm like Proteus where you are judged on your output rather than the hours you have put in, and where you are encouraged to use your colleagues to support you, is the perfect combination to succeed irrespective of gender, and particularly where you have other priorities in your life other than work.”

Sandra Jowers, Chief Product Officer

“I’ve moved between industry and consulting a few times – but I wouldn’t stay in consulting for 18+ years if it wasn’t fantastic. There are lots of opportunities to quickly get experience across a number of sectors and companies, great opportunities to develop both personally and professionally and work with like-minded people who are united in their passion to deliver a great result for a client.

Many consulting firms, like Proteus, offer flexible work patterns, exciting and challenging engagements, great coaching support and opportunities to achieve a great balance between home/family life to be able to continue a career doing rewarding work that you love. It also helps to strengthen your network so should you wish to jump back into industry for a while, then it can help open doors to get more experience in a different role to make you even more attractive in consulting.”

Sabrina Waite, Senior Consultant

“I never wanted to be a Consultant. I believed the male-dominated, living-out-of-suitcases stereotype. So in my early career, I took opportunities when they presented themselves, mostly trying to stay off the radar and have a quiet life. But my ‘lack of direction’ gave me heaps of varied experiences and a genuine empathy when working with teams, and that’s when I found what I really enjoyed – helping people solve problems. And who knew, those things make great Consultants! More and more consultancies (Proteus included!) are embracing flexible ways of working – so while the suitcase does come out occasionally, you can have a life outside of work. So my biggest bit of advice is: don’t assume it’s not for you or you don’t have the right background, education or expertise to do it. There is no single path or learning journey, there is no right way to develop your career or #breakthebias on the stereotype. It may have been true once, but it really is changing.”

Kate Spalding, Head of Government

“In the consulting industry as a whole, 32% of senior staff are female – up from 21% last year. So while firms are making an effort to shift the balance, it’s clear there’s still some way to go. The pandemic has made a huge difference in equalising the opportunity for all to maximise home and work life, but as we proceed with the new normal, we need to retain the right balance and continue to harness the incredible talent of our women. Of course, men also have a huge part to play in understanding and breaking the unconscious bias that still exists. For me, the key is open, honest communication. At Proteus, we are ahead of the curve here, with many of our clients increasingly embracing diversity. Internally, they are addressing the same challenges, and they expect the same from their consultants and business partners.

My message to women wanting to get into consulting today is a) know you are as good as anyone, b) be yourself completely, c) be ambitious and state what you want and where you want to get to, d) be prepared to be flexible – whilst a lot can be done from home, some flexibility will always be required, and e) be kind and help others! I’m proud to work with a team of formidable women here at Proteus, and hope their wise words can help others who are driven to thrive in our often male-dominated world.”

Lucy Paul, Senior Consultant

“There’s a highly debated claim that men apply for roles if they meet 60% of the criteria, whereas women only apply if they meet 100% of the criteria. Whether it’s fact or anecdote, that resonated with me. So I’d say don’t be afraid to apply for a role (within consulting or any industry) if you don’t fit the job spec 100%. If you think you can do the job well then have confidence in your skills, put your name in the hat and advocate yourself. Take that opportunity and run with it, whilst enabling some personal development!”

 

 

Alexandra Murillo, NGO Director

 

“About 70% of the civil society organisations employees are women and 70% of leaders in these organisations are men. I’m proud to be part of a team committed to investing in women leaders in the non-profit sector through our various pro bono coaching and change capability opportunities to support these leaders of change.”

 

 

 

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