The commercial case for gender diversity in professional services

When we asked female senior managers why so many women leave consulting careers at the stage they’d got to, one barrier stood out. While firms may have industry-leading policies on paper to help women through the ‘pinched middle’, they are often ignored by directors or partners leading engagements. Women talked of their careers going on ice should they work part time, or being seen as less dedicated than others if they dare to leave their desk on time or refuse to travel. In fact, just over a third (34%) of female senior managers said that the person they directly work for ignores the policies their firm has in place to help people in their position.

This is despite firms investing a huge amount of time, energy, and money in improving their gender diversity. Our respondents didn’t doubt that the leaders of consulting firms genuinely do care about this issue. The problem they describe is a level down; partners at the coalface of programme delivery, who are under pressure to deliver results for their clients and care more about that than hanging onto female talent in their teams.

But what if this attitude is actually harming their business?

We asked senior buyers of consulting services how important having a gender balanced team is when they’re selecting a firm to work with. The results were emphatic: Sixty-six percent of clients say this is important in their decision making; just 5% say it’s of no importance at all. And what’s more, the more senior a client is, the more they say this matters: Seventy-two percent of C-level and directors say this is important, compared with just 58% of senior managers.

Similarly, the more responsibility a client has for digital transformation, the more likely they are to say gender diversity in the consulting teams they work with matters. Just 56% of those with little responsibility for digital transformation say this matters to them, compared with 74% of those with the greatest responsibility.

When we asked about the impact of gender diversity on consulting projects, we found a similar pattern: Seventy-four percent of those with the greatest responsibility for digital work described a positive effect, with the majority saying that gender diverse teams lead to higher quality outcomes. In addition, those in the largest companies we survey (companies with revenues of over US$5bn a year) are the most likely to describe gender diverse teams as having a positive effect on the outcome of consulting projects.

To summarise, a client that cares about gender diversity looks like this: They’re very senior, they’re responsible for digital transformation, and they work in large companies. In short, they’re where most of the growth in the consulting market is coming from at the moment. If having gender diverse teams is important to these clients, it needs to be as important to those putting together and managing consulting teams. Ignore it and you risk losing business.