There’s been a lot of talk, and some action, about gender equality in the workplace lately, triggered by the final revelations of truly disturbing experiences faced by many women across generations and around the world. Creating a safe environment for all women to be able to be effective is absolutely critical. But what we can’t forget is that it’s not just about the overt harassment or bias. A lot of what holds women back in corporate situations is more subtle and often, unconscious. Part of the challenge is overcoming corporate cultures that are implicitly male-friendly, which have become places women do not see themselves as future leaders, ultimately causing women to self-select out of these firms.
I’ve been fortunate in my career to have great sponsors – mostly men – who have supported me through different legs of my journey. But a key part of my success has also been the women around me who have served as mentors, supporters and friends along the way. These women have helped me navigate an environment where the more senior I got, the more isolated I felt, with fewer peers to confer with or learn from. I am now in a position to ‘pay it forward’ to support other women in their career journeys and to ensure more women can see and feel that they have a place in leadership.
I have been at Prophet for 12 years. It is a place I’ve grown to love for many reasons, but similar to many corporations and consulting firms, is a place with few senior female leaders. We didn’t want to choose the status quo because we know women make amazing consultants that bring a unique perspective to problem solving and client services that can really set Prophet apart.
Our numbers told a clear story: we do a great job of attracting women and men in equal numbers at the junior levels and growing them to the manager ranks, but then we see a fairly big drop as we reach the junior partner level and further as we go up from there. Not an unusual story but a clear one that we had to tackle.
Prophet’s Women in Leadership Initiative
Being the firm and consultants that we are, after we officially kicked off our Women in Leadership initiative in November 2016, we took time to diagnose the problem through data analysis, research and interviews across the organization. Why did we have fewer senior female leaders and what actions did we need to take to get more women into the leadership roles?
The diagnostic led us to some core tenets of our strategy:
- Increase the number of women in leadership by being thoughtful about recruiting, sponsorship and development
- Ensure broader representation of leadership styles across the firm
- Actively support women to get to senior levels
- Elevate voices of women on a day-to-day basis across all levels and teams
- Create forums to enable dialogue on this issue so we can collectively engage and problem solve
We are pushing on a few key initiatives in the short-term to start moving the needle:
- Creating a sponsorship strategy that not only highlights the importance of women seeking sponsors, but also defines a clear path to partner
- Developing firm-wide training to recognize and eliminate implicit bias, including hiring and promotion criteria
- Hosting global and office-level conversations to raise awareness of key issues on this topic, encouraging all employees to advocate for women in the firm
Since 2016 we’ve had strong engagement across the firm. But I have no illusions that addressing this will be easy. It will be hard work, especially for those of us (myself included), who at some point accepted our historical norms as “the way things are”. We all have to shift some of our own behaviors, language, and assumptions. I have a passionate team working with me to lead this change and we are up for the challenge!
We are making ourselves accountable and creating transparency of our current state to tackle the issue in the short-term and to create the best long-term strategy and tactics – from hiring to retention. We look forward to diving in, making progress and driving better growth for our clients and our people.