US management consulting firms that provide women a top culture

18 October 2018 9 min. read

While consulting for decades has been regarded as a man’s world, in the past decade consulting firms have been making efforts to bring more women on board. Through more focus on recruiting and retaining women, as well as offering improved possibilities for breaking through the glass ceiling, women now represent more than 40% of the workforce in nearly all large consultancies. When it comes to providing top support to women in the workplace, fifteen 15 management consulting firms stand out in the US.

The desire for more women in the workforce of consulting firms is not just derived from internal company diversity strategies. In fact, a survey of 100 consultancy buyers (all senior executives) conducted last year by Source Global Research found that, put simply, clients want to see more women in management consulting teams.

Nine out of ten consultancy clients said they wanted to see teams with a greater gender balance, for a variety of reasons. For one, respondents said that teams with a higher proportion of women deliver better quality solutions to clients as well as the company’s end customers. They also said women help consulting teams think laterally and consider the long term.

Senior executive consultancy buyers also perceived women to be more effective coaches, and faster at developing relationships. Women consultants were also seen as more thoughtful, reflective, and engaged. What’s more, over 80% of clients believed that a project run by a woman was likely to keep to time and budget. Female project managers were also deemed better at stakeholder management than men.

According to the Source survey, women are also viewed as excellent communicators. 75% of clients said that women were more upfront about what needed to be done and why, while 58% said that women were more ‘straightforward’ than men.

Several studies over the past years have shown that more diversity in the workplace, including more women, is beneficial for both financial as well as non-financial reasons. A study by McKinsey & Company, for instance, found that top-performing companies in terms of gender mix (first quartile) achieve a 15% higher financial performance compared to companies which placed in the fourth quartile. In broader terms, another recent study – this time from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) – found that improved workplace diversity across gender, race, background, and ethnicity can enhance financial performance. Meanwhile, a research series by Mercer tracked the impact of diversity on softer cultural elements within a company, finding that more diverse organizations are also more ‘people-friendly’ workplaces.

Fostering a women-friendly culture

With the financial and corporate cultural benefits of diversity – as well as a clientele and wider public that demands it – it comes as no surprise that consulting firms are pushing hard to be great workplaces for women. What are they all doing?

Leading consultancies have implemented human resources strategies that include support for flex-working, remote work, coaching and mentoring, networks for women, and women-only recruitment events. They have also implemented company culture programs to nurture more open and empowering work cultures, with buy-in from C-suite execs and managers to help women advance within the firms.

Specifically for mothers, consultancies are offering better leave programs, including fully-paid maternity leave, paternity leave, and adoption leave. They are also ramping up their phase-back programs for new moms (and sometimes dads) to return to work on a part-time schedule after being away on leave.

Firms are also offering generous childcare support, with reimbursement packages for before/after school childcare and school-holiday childcare. Many consultancies also offer sector-specific (read: intensive travel and extended work hours-related) childcare benefits, including business-travel childcare reimbursement, overtime-work childcare reimbursement, and paying for child caregivers to travel with parents on business trips. Many also offer support for nursing moms in the office, with amenities like private pumping rooms, breast pumps, and specialized furniture.

However, though firms are putting in the effort to make their workplaces more appealing to female talent, a good deal of work remains to be done. According to a report from PwC, women still face barriers to recruitment and progression in the wider corporate world, remaining underrepresented at every level in the corporate pipeline – from entry-level to C-suite. Meanwhile, women face especially strong structural barriers to advancement to boardroom and executive roles, according to Bain & Company.

Top US consulting firms for women

Women in consulting – six largest consulting firms

In the consulting industry – out of the 500+ leading consulting firms active throughout the country – an analysis by based on data sourced from Working Mother Magazine has identified the top firms for women employees. The elite group of 15 consulting firms demonstrate what makes an organization great for women and working moms, delivering flexible workplaces, formal mentoring programs, expanded parental leave, fertility benefits, and employee-resource groups for parents/caregivers, among other policies and programs.

Not surprisingly, all of the Big Four accounting and consulting firms – Deloitte, EYKPMG and PwC – made the list. Likewise, the Big Three strategy firms (McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, and BCG) were among the top 15. Rounding out the list of top consulting firms for women and working moms were Accenture, Booz Allen Hamilton, Grant Thornton, BDO, Protiviti, Oliver Wyman, A.T. Kearney, and LEK Consulting.

In terms of the percentage of women in the US operations of the above consulting firms, BCG had the highest proportion at 50%, with Bain close behind at 49%. The rest of the firms had an overall female workforce in the 40s percentage range, with three dipping into the 30s, namely Accenture and Booz Allen Hamilton at 37%, and A.T. Kearney at 36%.

Women in consulting – other top consulting firms

In terms of percentage of women in management roles, BCG, BDO, and Bain did best – with women holding 59%, 56%, and 53% of management roles at the companies, respectively. Among the Big Four, EY took the top spot with 47% female management, narrowly defeating PwC and KPMG, which both had 46%.

Public sector-focused tech consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton had the lowest proportion of female managers, at 34%. A.T. Kearney, Protiviti, and Oliver Wyman were the other firms that failed to crest 40% female management, at 36%, 37%, and 38%, respectively.

Though most firms did fairly well in management representation for women, executive make-up was less progressive, showcasing the barriers to reaching executive status that women continue to face. EY had the strongest showing, with 35% of its executives being women. Next up were Booz Allen Hamilton and Protiviti, at 29%. A.T. Kearney had the lowest proportion of female execs (12%). Accenture chose not to disclose its female representation among managers and executives.

Overall, EY seems to have done best in the area of female representation, with a 45% female workforce, 46% female management, and 35% female executives. The Big Four were broadly similar in their performance, save for EY’s stronger showing in executive representation. Meanwhile, BDO, BCG, and Bain did exceedingly well in terms of overall workforce and management representation, but were undercut by poorer showings in executive representation.

Women in consulting: maternity, paternity and adoption leave

In terms of parental leave, Deloitte had the most generous package of all consulting firms – with a minimum 22 weeks of maternity leave, 16 weeks of paternity leave, and 16 weeks of adoption leave. Big Four rival EY was next best at 16 weeks' maternity leave, 16 weeks’ paternity leave, and 16 weeks’ adoption leave.

The Big Three strategy firms had the same benefits for minimum maternity and paternity leave (16 and 8 weeks, respectively), though McKinsey offers 4 extra weeks of adoption leave on top of BCG and Bain’s 8 weeks.

Protiviti had the poorest benefits package, at 4 weeks of maternity leave, 1 week of paternity leave, and 1 week of adoption leave. Booz Allen was the stingiest of the larger consultancies, providing 8 weeks’ maternity leave, 2 weeks’ paternity leave, and 6 weeks’ adoption leave.

Paternity leave was a common benefit to skimp on at firms, with many offering only 2 weeks, including Accenture, KPMG, Booz Allen, Grant Thornton, BDO, and A.T. Kearney. However, paternity leave is still an important benefit that affects women, since it allows for partners to share parental care – potentially allowing women to shift back into work earlier.

Overall, EY seems to have the best mix of female representation and parental benefits, with Deloitte very close by. Both firms were in the top 10 of Working Mother’s overall ranking, with McKinsey also placing in the top 10.