By Alison Huntington.
Apparently, it’s true: People own dogs that look like themselves. A 2015 experiment revealed that by just looking at pooch and owner, it’s easy to match them up because their hairstyles and eye shape tend to be similar. Aside from wondering who on earth funds this sort of research, it made me think that there’s perhaps a parallel: Consulting firms’ offices tend to look like their owners.
I don’t mean this from a brand perspective—of course a firm’s lobby, meeting rooms, and open spaces should reinforce the firm’s colours and message (hell, we’ve even seen firm-branded toilet seats in our time). I mean that the facilities on offer tend to reflect the needs of the owners.
Consultants need coffee. It’s just a fact. There’s usually a free coffee machine on each floor, but really, who wants to drink that? As a result, just about every consulting office has an artisan coffee shop onsite, serving up double espressos as rapidly as consultants bust out deliverables. A lot of the larger consulting firms tend to have onsite gyms, too. With most senior people spending the vast proportion of their waking hours at the office, and with plenty of sumptuous client dinners to burn off, it makes sense to have a facility nearby, or even inside the building, that partners can pop down to and squeeze in a quick workout.
But I can’t help wondering whether, if the partnerships of most firms weren’t overwhelmingly male, we would see different facilities in consulting firms’ offices. In our research into why women tend to leave consulting careers at senior manager level, the issue of balancing work with family life comes up over and over again, and is a key reason why so many women quit the industry. Many parents—both male and female—talk of the difficulty of finding convenient childcare that doesn’t cost the earth, and the guilt they feel about not seeing their children very much. If a consulting firm can afford an onsite gym, why can’t it have an onsite childcare facility to help women with young families find a balance? One has to wonder if it’s because the vast majority of the male partnership have never felt that need themselves. Many will have spouses at home that simply take care of all of that—a single-breadwinner set up that’s not an option for most women.
Although not a shining beacon of gender equality, it’s something Goldman Sachs’ London office invested in way back in 2003 to deal with this very issue. If a prestigious investment bank can do it, why not a consulting firm?
They say you should dress for the job you want to have. If firms are serious about gender diversity, perhaps they should invest in having the offices that look more like the leadership they want to have in the future. (Please note, the dog/owner comparison breaks down at this point: If you buy a good-looking pooch, it won’t make you better looking. Sorry.)
For more information about our research into what firms can do to hang on to female talent, please download our free report here.