If you’re a woman considering joining a top consulting firm such as McKinsey, BCG or Bain, you may be wondering how the work of a typical consultant may fit with family life or how the gender-diversity is within the top firms.
In this article, we share four insights from a former McKinsey consultant about what it’s like being a woman in a top consulting firm.
Varying client demands can be challenging
Today, one of the big questions many ambitious men and women have when considering a career is how to manage work-life balance, especially if you plan to have—or already have—a young family.
The truth is, like in every client-facing industry, the client’s demands can make planning your time during the week challenging—a last-minute client request can mean you have to work later than expected. This is very difficult to manage if you are the primary caregiver of a young family and need to be home at specific times.
In addition, even though you can say no to traveling abroad, you might have to travel depending on the industry you usually work in. If you want to avoid traveling you will have to stick to local clients and industries. Some industries—such as industrials, manufacturing, and oil & gas—are often located outside of major cities where your office might be. Consequently, when working for a client outside of your city, planning your week or having a regular schedule may be challenging.
Project-based work creates flexibility
However, the job of a consultant is project-based work, and this has a huge advantage that lots of careers can’t offer: flexibility!
When a project is done, under certain conditions, you can take a few months off and your work won’t be impacted. It’s not unusual for men and women in top consulting firms to take one or more “Leaves of Absence” of several months during their career.
The benefit of project-based work, in this case, is that nobody has to cover for your work while you’re away. Consequently, when you are back, you are staffed on a new project and you don’t have to justify or even mention your time off.
It is well known that top consulting firms are investing a lot to retain parents of young children by avoiding scheduled meetings after 5pm, generous parental packages available to both genders, and adapting schedules during pregnancy.
Gender diversity is better than in some other industries
If you don’t need to have a regular schedule and are not particularly interested in flexibility, a career in consulting can still be appealing if you are looking for a gender-balanced work environment, especially at junior levels. Reaching gender equality is a strategic priority for McKinsey, Bain and BCG.
For example, they all invest heavily in hiring, supporting, and promoting women within their ranks. They all have women networks within the firm, such as the Next Generation Women Leaders at McKinsey, Women in Consulting at Bain (WAB), and Women@BCG. Those networks often help young women find mentorship, support, and guidance at an early stage in their careers.
But there are still challenges to solve
However, working at a top consulting firm means working with senior executive teams of the clients and these are still largely male-dominated, which can result in some situations that women face in all industries: sexist jokes, misogyny, and feeling out of place
Despite all the efforts for reaching gender parity at junior levels, there is still a long way to go at the Partner level. As of 2019, the rate of female partners at Bain, BCG, and McKinsey was only around 20%
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