Proportion of women in UK consulting falls despite recruitment boom

08 March 2019 7 min. read
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Over the last 20 years, the consulting industry has hired women at the third fastest rate in the UK economy. While its female headcount has improved by more than 190% in that time, however, the industry has seen its gender balance become 5% less equal.

Driven by a growing body of evidence that suggests more diverse teams perform better, while an ageing population and higher levels of competition for talent have further incentivised companies looking to recruit from underrepresented groups, the corporate world has been working for a number of years to improve its inclusivity. Despite continuously encouraging clients to improve their gender representation and reduce gender pay gaps, the consulting industry of the UK has routinely been shown to be failing to improve its own outlook on the matter.

Data submitted to the UK Government over the last year has shown that all of the largest consultancies operating in the UK having reported significant gender pay gaps, both in terms of the average hourly rate received by women at the firms and the average bonus gap. While the firms in question suggested they were keen to address this, and were not “satisfied with our current representation gap,” the statistics do beg the question as to why so few women are still making it to the top of big consultancies, especially when they have been accepting similar numbers of male and female graduates for a considerable time.Acticities of head offices and consulting constitute the UKs 11th largest employer of women

One of the most common factors cited when explaining the pay gap was that there were simply too few women in the talent pool of most consulting firms, and that the consulting world could address this by working to better accommodate female graduates in their future intake, among a number of other measures. A new study has called this position into question, however, as it has been revealed that the consulting industry employs 191% more women than it did 20 years ago, but that has been eclipsed by the number of men it has taken in, meaning the proportion of women in the consulting sector is now lower.

In celebration of International Women’s Day, researchers from Instantprint analysed two decades of UK labour market data to reveal where the most new opportunities are opening up for women and where potential career paths may exist for women entering the workforce. Sourcing data from the Office of National Statistics from September 1998 to September 2018, the study has given a 20-year insight into the gender diversity gap of the UK workforce, which paints a mixed picture of the progress the ‘Activities of head offices and management consultancy’ sector has made in the UK.

Head of HR at Instantprint, Vicki Russell, said of the research, “We undertook the analysis to highlight to those establishing a career or starting out on the road to developing their own business where exciting opportunities exist. The results highlight the changing face of women in the workplace, and also indicate where more needs to be done to balance gender in the UK’s workforce. This should prompt companies to assess their own gender diversity gaps, and consider how they can improve, while also highlighting to women where they can look to for expanding industries to work in.” 

Work to be done

Activities of head offices and management consultancies now constitutes the 11th largest industry for the number of women it employees, at 367,000. This places the management consulting sector more or less on par with the legal sector, which narrowly pushed it outside of the top 10, but also far behind the number of women employed by the education, healthcare and retail sectors. While it is true that these sectors tend to have a higher collective staff count than the consulting industry of the UK, when considered in proportion, there are far fewer women employed in the consulting sector.

According to the study, management consulting is the 31st biggest industry for the percentage of women that makes up its workforce, at 46.99%. Despite the number of women being employed by the industry having risen by 191%, the third fastest of any industry in the last 20 years, the portion of the workforce they represent in management consulting has declined by more than 5% since 1998, when they constituted 52.5%.Despite employing more women, the gender gap in the UK is widening

Consulting firms remain steadfast in their refusal to back any measure which could be deemed ‘positive discrimination’; however these figures suggest that the current method of simply working to foster more female talent in the sector will not reduce its large pay-gap. While there are a great many more women working in management consulting than seen in 1998, there are even more men, as its headcount has increased as a whole amid two market booms for the industry. Meanwhile, the ‘boys club’ attitude often criticised in the sector could mean that women are likely to be overlooked for promotions and better pay.

The study comes at a time when the new Chair of one of the UK’s most influential business groups has accused Britain’s biggest companies of lying when they say they cannot find enough female or ethnic minority directors. The portion of women on FTSE 250 boards has only marginally improved over the last year, from 22.8% to 23.7% by June 2018. As a result, Charlotte Valeur said she would start calling for new laws next year to force firms to improve their diversity if FTSE 350 companies failed to make faster progress.

In the stinging interview with UK paper The Guardian, she added, “I will be very unpopular with the FTSE 100, but I don’t actually mind, because it’s not true that it’s difficult... People don’t like change. Talent of all kinds is out there, but you have to consciously look for it.”

Elsewhere, progress has also been slow in the STEM fields. Instantprint found that computer programming has demonstrated the second highest growth rate for women of all industries in the UK, but despite this, if the current rate of change in the gender diversity gap is maintained, it will be another 60 years before the number of women in computer programming matches that of men. Women currently make up 29.89% of the computer programming workforce, with a growth of 6.34% since 1998. To get to 50% of the workforce at the same rate will take another six decades.

According to Instantprint Brand Manager Laura Mucklow, companies looking to address their gender imbalance should start by conducting a gender analysis. While there are a number of ways to conduct a gender analysis, the ‘Three R’ method, developed in Sweden, is one of the most consistent. This involves examining ‘representation’, or the proportions of men and women in a workforce, across different departments and leadership levels; ‘resources’, such as pay and training, and how they are distributed between men and women; and ‘reality’, to see if men and women are getting equal use from their benefits packages.

Commenting on the company’s blog, Mucklow said, “A gender analysis like this should get you well on your way to understanding any underlying issues or imbalance within your company. From here you can implement a proactive policy to improve a possible gender imbalance in your company and help achieve equality, not only in staff numbers, but in pay and company culture too.”