Diversity isn't just about hiring more ethnic minorities and women. As the UK's Financial Conduct Authority noted in its recent discussion paper, diversity extends to all the legally protected characteristics (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation), plus socio‑economic diversity and cultural background.
Like banks, strategy consulting firms are belatedly trying to address the final two categories. Also like banks, the big consulting firms have a historic tendency to hire from elite universities with the result that they're predominantly filled with members of existing social and cultural elites. - Research by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that less than 25% of the consulting workforce had a working class background, compared to 39% in the population as a whole.
In a move to address this, top strategy consulting firms Bain & Company, BCG, McKinsey & Company, and Oliver Wyman have created a new programme for 100 year 12 students in UK state schools to help inform them about consulting careers and support applications. Students can apply for places on the two-year programme, known as Pathways to Consulting, now.
Among other criteria (5 A* – B grades at GCSE, with a minimum of 2 A* or A grades), applicants to the programme need to be the first in their families to have attended university. On this basis, David Gillespie, the current head of Oliver Wyman UK & Ireland may himself once have been eligible to apply. “Personally, I joined Oliver Wyman straight from university. I suppose I came from a middle-class family, but neither of my parents went to university and I didn’t know about management consulting when I was at university,” says Gillespie.
“Consulting isn’t a career that’s a household name," he adds. "Unlike being a doctor or a lawyer, it’s not something that young people are necessarily aware of as they’re growing up. But consulting by its very nature is an industry that’s highly creative.”
Katie Mawdsley, an Oliver Wyman consultant with a working-class background who joined after achieving a first class degree in chemical engineering at Imperial College, said she wasn't aware of consulting for a long time and was being advised by friends and family to go into better known careers like engineering. "I definitely wasn’t one of the people lining up for internships in the first year. – I didn’t realise that those kinds of things were happening and I didn’t have anyone saying to me, ‘Don’t forget to do this in your first year, or this in your second year”," she says. "It helped that I was doing a four-year integrated Masters – I only came to understanding what consulting was in my third year.”
Gillespie says the industry is working together to address the issue. “We’ve chosen to work at an industry level, because we’re more likely to have an impact collectively.”
Photo by Benn McGuinness on Unsplash
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