Consulting majors working to get gender balance right

Consulting Centrale

While strategy firms such as BCG and Grant Thornton have a higher representation of women at the partner level at 15-20%, the Big Four audit firms have only about half of that share of women at the top leadership level.

Consulting Centrale


Top consulting and strategy firms – including BCG, Grant Thornton, Deloitte, KPMG, PWC, and EY – are hiring more women than ever before in a bid to build a gender diverse workforce and showcase it to their clients.

Industry insiders said the push is coming from their global head offices as the big consultancies, who teach best practices to other companies, are pushing the business case for a diverse workforce at a time when companies across sectors are changing their talent landscape.

“We are committed to showcasing our efforts in balancing gender ratios by sending 50-50 (male: female) balanced groups for our global programmes, hiring the right women candidates and creating employee friendly policies,” said Vishesh C Chandiok, chief executive officer of Grant Thornton Bharat.

The consultancy, which has 15% women at the leadership level, plans to double the number in the next few years.

Much of the impetus came from Covid-19 and the remote working environment that helped level the playing field somewhat for women, who have been making career compromises due to various familial commitments, industry officials said.

However, even as offices open up, these firms are going all out to attract and retain women, giving a wide array of flexibility such as unlimited leaves, work from anywhere, work from home, and hybrid options. The companies are also hiring more women from campuses while strengthening their lateral intake.

Take the case of BCG, which has 17% women at the partner level and has reduced leadership attrition by around 60% in the last one year. The strategy consultant has a confirmed pipeline of 50% women scheduled to join in the next 6-9 months, up from the current intake of 35%.

“Clients are more adaptable to the new ways of working,” said Neetu Vasanta, managing director and partner at BCG. “This year we are looking at better conversion of women candidates from campuses as we widen our talent pool with a 50:50 gender ratio in mind,” she said.

Last year, BCG had launched a ‘Back to Home’ programme that reached out to women who had left the company over the last five years either to move in tech/startup roles and abroad to get them back to consulting.

The Big Four audit firms are also trying to improve on gender diversity.

At PwC India, 35% of the new recruits are women as the company is also focusing on strengthening their leadership pipeline.

“Our data driven interventions – around policies, processes or programmes – are focused on improving women representation,” said Padmaja Alaganandan, chief people officer at PwC India.

Some saw a record number of women getting promoted.

“This year we had the maximum number of women leaders promoted to partner/ director levels (25% of the total) in our history in India and we will continue to see more of this in the years ahead,” said Sunit Sinha, partner and head – people, performance and culture, at KPMG in India.

Deloitte India claims to have doubled the number of women to 40% during the pandemic, while 41% of the people promoted were women. “We are setting and measuring progress on our goal to increase the women representation to 45% by 2025,” a Deloitte spokesperson said.

Diversity experts said there is no choice but to be gender inclusive.

“The business case is very strong,” said Saundarya Rajesh, founder president of Avtar Group, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm. “If the consultants have to get business they have to improve their own diversity.”

She said high-end IT consulting companies are among the early adopters.

However, representation of women continues to be low at the leadership level at many of India’s big consulting companies, HR consultants and industry insiders said.

While strategy firms such as BCG and Grant Thornton have a higher representation of women at the partner level at 15-20%, the Big Four audit firms have only about half of that share of women at the top leadership level.

“The life of a partner is very hectic,” said Navnit Singh, chairman and MD of India at management consulting firm Korn Ferry. “As the pyramid gets sharper, a lot of women drop out.”


Credits: Rica Bhattacharyya, Sachin Dave, ET Bureau.§

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