Like the wider financial services sector, management consulting has struggled to attract and retain women. Some of the traditional requirements of the job – long, inflexible hours and lots of travel – have not helped keep new mothers in the fold.
As far back as in 2013, global management consulting heavyweight McKinsey rolled up its collective sleeves to attract employees who had left the firm after having children back. Yet the attrition rate of mothers at management consultancies remain stubbornly high.
A 2016 global survey of financial services employees shows that women enter the financial services industry with the same ambition level as men, retain this ambition for the first years of their career, and usually also have similar ambition later in their careers. However it’s right at that mid-career stage that a significant gap opens between men and women in their willingness to make sacrifices in their private lives to further their careers.
Exit rates of women in financial services in the mid-part of their careers are not only higher than those of their male colleagues, but also significantly higher than in other industries. Female managers, senior managers and executives in financial services are 20 per cent to 30 per cent more likely to leave their employer than their peers in other industries.
To address this glaring flaw in the system, consulting firms are experimenting with new ways of recruiting, motivating, and developing staff. From mentoring programmes and apprenticeships, to flexible work and extended parental leave, these initiatives are making a difference; globally, women occupied 20 per cent of board level positions at the beginning of 2016, up from 18 per cent in 2013. But the changes have not been big enough or fast enough. At this rate, we’ll only see 30 per cent female representation by 2048.
So what can bring these “McKinsey mums” back to consulting? Working on their own terms may be the answer, according to recruitment platform Talmix’s Daniel Callaghan. “These women bring a huge amount of value to businesses, but they may not be able to work 120-hour weeks, for example. This is why working on their own terms, with scaled back hours makes sense,” he says.
Talmix, a portmanteau of ‘talent’ and ‘mix’, focuses on bringing the top 1 per cent of skilled, independent business talent to large corporates as and when they need them. The platform has over 27,000 vetted and screened freelance consultants and business analysts from 130 countries around the world, many of whom are women.
“It’s the freedom and flexibility of working as an independent consultant that we want to encourage. In many ways, independent consultants are like entrepreneurs. They’re building their own reputation and brand based on their performance,” he explains.
For Callaghan, online staffing has been commonplace since the early 2000s, but its function within the fast-growth gig economy has been unexplored until Talmix entered the scene.
“The gig economy is still very much about Uber, Deliveroo, and the like. We’re looking at it from a different end of the spectrum, and we throw out the idea of the oppressed worker completely. 80 per cent of consultants earn more this way, and 60 per cent work less. It’s a two-sided marketplace that lets professionals get out there and built their name, while giving businesses immediate access to top talent that is built for purpose,” adds Callaghan.
The average time it takes for businesses to hire an employee is 49 days. With Talmix, the decision takes an average of four days, giving companies a 45-day head-start, says Callaghan. “It also takes 28 weeks to fully on-board an employee. And one in three hires usually don’t work out, so it’s definitely time to change the way we approach hiring.”
There is a huge opportunity for independent consultancy; eight out of ten current or former freelance consultants believe the sector will increase in the future, while the Financial Times recently reported that 55,000 of the UK’s 175,000 management consultants and business analysts are now self-employed. Meanwhile, online staffing platforms have grown from $3 billion to $4.5 billion in the last 12 months.
By 2020, 50 per cent of the American workforce will be self-employed. Callaghan expects similar stats in the UK with time. This could help recalibrate gender ratios at work, since a key barrier for career advancement for women has been the corporate nine-to-five.
What about the gender pay gap? Callaghan says that Talmix figures suggest shifting sands. “Consultants set their own price on Talmix. It’s only visible to the clients once the consultants have been curated for their specific project,” he explains. “Usually, women price their time lower, but end higher (say with a range of £350 to £750 per day), while men ask for something in the middle (like £500 to £700 a day). It’s probably just a pre-conditioned way of doing things.”
>Further reading: Countering unconscious bias in corporate Britain