Just 9% of the consulting leaders we interview are women

Over the course of 2017, we’ve interviewed almost 400 senior consulting leaders around the world, usually the most senior person in a territory or industry, picking their brains about the trends shaping their clients’ businesses and the pressures being placed on the consulting model.

Having spent a lot of time writing about women in consulting—why so few make it to the top, the barriers to their progression, and what firms can do to change things—I thought it would be interesting to look at the gender balance of the consulting leaders we speak to.

The results were surprising. Who would have thought, for example, that China would have the greatest balance, with 22% (four out of 18) of interviewees female leaders? If we look at absolute numbers, our Africa report is informed by the views of four women (out of 28), meaning it ties with China for the most number of women interviewed for any report.

The results are also slightly depressing. In the UK, the GCC, Italy, and Australia, we didn’t interview a single female consulting leader, nor did we find any for our TMT industry report. In a further five markets, we spoke to just one woman for each report. Even in the Nordics, a region with a great reputation for gender equality, we only spoke to a paltry three women (making up just under 10% of interviewees). Overall, just 9% of the people we interviewed all year were women.

Who cares? Your female consultants care. When we surveyed 261 senior managers across Europe in the fall of 2016, 93% of women said that having more role models in senior positions that they can relate to would help keep them in consulting. Seeing is believing: looking up and seeing successful senior women who’ve made choices that they’d want for themselves sends a powerful signal that you can be “normal” and successful in consulting. While consulting firms are investing heavily in addressing this issue, the rate of progress is slow—and as we can see from our set of interviewees, they’re still rarely in the very top jobs.

Your clients care, too. Nine out of ten clients in the US say they’d like to see more women on consulting teams, and not just to virtue signal how right-on they are*. Clients say the quality of solutions is better with balanced teams as they consider a wider range of perspectives, and that projects run by women are more likely to run on time and on budget, and take a more collaborative approach with client teams.

So which firm did put forward the most women for interview in 2017? That would be EY, with three women interviewed over the course of the year. Accenture, Korn Ferry Hay Group, North Highland, and KPMG tie in second place with two women each. We spoke to one woman at 23 other firms, but with many more firms—including global brands with offices across the world—it was all men.

Change can be painfully slow, but with the huge effort we see consulting firms making to diversify their leadership teams, we hope we’ll start to see a more even balance of interviewees in the future.

For more information about our research into what firms can do to hang on to female talent, please download our free report here.

*Research from Women in Consulting, published in October 2014.

This article was updated on 9 January 2018 to include information about North Highland’s interviewees.