We need more women in management consulting – and concrete actions to break the bias.


Tuesday, 8 March

By Cheryl Bannerman, ICC Consultant specializing in complex, design-led regeneration projects.

When was the last time you walked into a space as a true representative of yourself? As I look at the women in the management consultancy industry I wonder how many daily present instead a toned-down and passive version to a space that still sends a message that we are not good enough – to the detriment of ourselves and the industry we care about.

Over the last 20 years, female headcount in consulting has risen 191 percent – yet still been eclipsed by the number of men employed. Even during a recent recruitment boom, the proportion of women in the workplace declined by more than 5 percent from 1998 to hit 46.9 percent in 2019. Meanwhile, a survey in 2020 found that 73 percent of consulting firms’ employees are white and so are 80 percent of their owners and partners – something I personally reflect on increasingly as I progress my career as a woman of colour.

These statistics should be a trigger for change. The COVID -19 pandemic had devastating health and economic impacts for us all and disproportionately hit those who were already vulnerable – the communities that are minoritised by a lack of representation and understanding at design and policy-making level. As we seek to stabilise and rebuild, the role of women in management consulting is key to progress. We can only unlock better futures for people in communities and places across the UK with the participation of people from all backgrounds and experiences. That means ensuring that women from all backgrounds and experiences are key players in all teams, their skills and insights at the heart of the work we do, and their opportunities to progress clear and targeted.

At Inner Circle Consulting our priority is to create meaningful and longstanding change with the projects that we deliver and the communities that we work with. We recognise the duty we hold in working with our public sector clients to address the deep routed inequalities that affect a significant proportion of minoritized groups through prevention, reform, and inclusive community design as the main route to tackling these inadequacies.

So the women at ICC created a women’s cohort – the GRIT group – to share our experiences, grow as a collective and pool ideas and efforts about how to shine a light on women’s contributions and improve women’s representation and leadership. Providing a platform where we can advocate for each other is one small step of many. This International Women’s Month – a day is not enough! – we have organised a series of events to progress our work. We are looking forward in particular to hosting a panel of women experts on March 24 who will consider what our urban landscape would look like if women were placed at the epicentre of our design consideration and discuss how spatial and social structure are equally important fundamental in providing equitable spaces for all to benefit. Together, we’ll be looking at the impact of not having women as part of the decision-making process and where the opportunities are for a creative disruption in the planning and design process. You can find out more and sign up for the event here.

A lack of representation has a very big impact on keeping women from doing and saying the things that allow us to show our real selves, to the benefit of everyone we work with. There is power in the moments where women come together, share their experiences and realise that each of us was not the only one that felt a particular way in a particular moment. We can all be leaders in our own right and the challenge of the direct and indirect discrimination we too often face at work is to remain exactly who we are and have often difficult conversations about doing things differently.

But companies have a responsibility to accelerate change within their organisations. Male leaders who care about performance and profits – this week saw the publication of yet another report showing that companies with female leaders outperform those dominated by men – know that measuring and tracking diversity is the bare minimum action for change. Those who have set themselves apart are taking the steps to uncover the invisible barriers that hinder career progression and acknowledging the need to make adjustments to address this imbalance. They are taking targeted, measurable steps to improve women’s representation and to create workplaces where everyone can feel confident to speak up, make suggestions and lead as their real selves. I’m really pleased that ICC is driving targeted recruitment of women at all levels.

International Women’s Day is not long enough to capture the full breadth of women’s experiences and achievements, or the challenges we still face. But it can serve as a moment of reminder to everyone that it is going to take a collective and honest effort, and some tangible, funded actions, to truly see gender parity within our industry and break the bias for good.