Consulting's top leaders that champion diversity and female support

21 September 2018

The Financial Times has unveiled a list of 200 top professionals that are playing instrumental role in championing diversity and providing ambitious females with mentoring and coaching so they can realise their career potential. More than 20 members of the professional services industry are lauded by the list.

Businesses opening up to more diverse models of operation is increasingly important, as public discontent continues to grow about a perceived lack of equal opportunities in society. At the same time, diversity would also benefit the financial performance of companies who traditionally have found themselves in opposition to gender equality. In some cases, this boost could yield a 30% improvement in the financial performance of businesses.

Despite this, efforts to elevate women to the top of the world’s biggest businesses have yielded a mixed degree of success, at best. The proportion of businesses with at least one woman in senior management has grown from 68% in 2015, to 75% this year. However, while there are more women represented at companies that formerly had no female representation in their senior leadership; the absolute increase in women across all senior roles has been more muted. Having improved by 3% in 2016 to 25%, the level actually declined to 24% this year.

Consulting's top leaders that champion diversity and female support

With this in mind, identifying role-models, and encouraging other businesses to emulate their best practices has become key to helping more women ascend corporate structures to the boardroom. To that end, the Financial Times – which publishes a variety of lists about formerly marginalised groups permeating the private sector – has published a long-list of top business figures promoting female leadership in the workplace. All of those named on the list were nominated by peers and colleagues, and the nominations then reviewed by a panel of judges.

Each person was scored on the seniority and influence of their role, their internal and external work to champion women, their recent and significant business achievements, and the testimonial that was provided with their nomination. Across all three lists, the role models were required to be visible and vocal champions, working to create an environment in which women can succeed. The list – named HERoes: Champions of Women in Business 2018 – includes a total of 200 business leaders, of which 27 are active in the consulting industry.

Big Four firm EY was the most regular presence in the list, taking up six slots. EY recently saw its UK board adopt equal representation, with two senior appointments taking the proportion of male and female members of the board to 50:50. The firm was followed by Big Four competitor, KPMG, and Accenture – the North American arm of which targets gender equality by 2025 – which both hosted four professionals recognised. 

In the list of the Top 100 Female Champions compiled by the Financial Times, Carol Liao, a Senior Partner at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), ranked highest, while EY, KPMG and Accenture took up six of the 10 spaces occupied by the consulting industry. In the Top 50 Male Champions of gender inclusivity, meanwhile, EY’s UK Chairman Steve Varley topped proceedings from the sector, followed by eight other consultancy professionals, and the Top 50 Future Leaders category saw Laura Tynan, Manager EMEIA Restructuring, EY, rank highest of any consultants in terms of their future promise as female business leaders.

The full list of consulting professionals that have made FT’s 2018 ‘HERoes: Champions of Women in Business’ list are:

Female Champions

- Carol Liao, Senior Partner & Managing Director, BCG
- Melanie Richards, Deputy Chair, KPMG
- Rana Ghandour Salhab, Talent & Communications Partner, Deloitte Middle East
- Anna Purchas, Partner & Head of People, KPMG
- Maggie Stilwell, Dispute Services Partner, EY
- Emma Codd, Managing Partner for Talent, Deloitte
- Joanna Santinon, Partner, EY
- Emma McGuigan, Group Technology Officer, Communications, Media & Technology, Accenture
- Payal Vasudeva, Human Capital & Diversity Executive Sponsor, Accenture
- Merelina Monk, Partner Student Property Team, Knight Frank

Male Champions

- Steve Varley, UK Chairman, EY
- Christopher Stirling, Global Chair Life Sciences, KPMG
- David Sproul, Senior Partner & Chief Executive Officer, Deloitte
- Oliver Benzecry, UKI Chairman & Country Director, Accenture
- Dominic Christian, Global Chairman Aon, Aon Benfield
- Andrew Pearce, Managing Director – Operations, Accenture
- Matthew Krentz, Senior Partner & Managing Director, Global People Chair, BCG
- Omar Ali, UK Financial Services Managing Partner, EY
- Karl Edge, Midlands Regional Chair, KPMG

Future Leaders

- Laura Tynan, Manager EMEIA Restructuring, EY
- Coleen Mensa, Trainee Solicitor, EY
- Kathryn Cripps, Partner, Knight Frank
- Samantha Jayne Nelson, Vice President Risk Engineer, Marsh
- Sayli Chitre, Associate Manager, Oliver Wyman
- Kenesa Ahmad, Partner & Co-founder, Aleada Consulting
- Siva Karthikeyan, Senior Finance Business Partner, Aon
- Elena Elkina, Partner/Co-owner, Aleada Consulting


Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.