Carolina Women in Business Conference panel

Women leading in consulting

Carolina Women in Business Conference panelAt the 2018 Carolina Women in Business Conference, panelists gathered to discuss their experiences in consulting and the unique challenges they’ve faced as women in the field.

Karin Cochran (MBA ’99), co-director of UNC Kenan-Flagler’s STAR program, consulting professor and a former Deloitte consultant, moderated the panel of Nina Cockfield, senior manager at Deloitte; Lana DeWitt, strategic business manager at Tata Consultancy Services; and Karen Hilton (MBA ’00), partner at Scott Madden. They discussed changes in the consulting industry over the years, work-life balance and their support networks.

The changing industry

Consulting has always been about working with clients, but just how consultants interact with their clients has changed drastically over the last decade.

“When I was working there wasn’t a lot of Skype and Zoom technology or WebEx, so to be effective in your job you were there in person.” said Cochran. In-person interaction is still favored, but companies are now much more used to employees working remotely. Cockfield tries to work out the most efficient schedule with her clients, which often includes one week of working remotely.

“If you can make the business case where if each team takes a week off a month, I’m giving my team a week at home to do normal things, like get dinner with friends on a Tuesday, and it substantially cuts down on all the expenses for the client,” said Cockfield. “I have to help the client understand that there’s no loss of quality – we’re still available and accessible through video conferences. We can do anything that is required.”

Work-life balance

Another aspect of consulting that has changed considerably is work-life balance. Firms have started to make the balance more of a priority. When Cochran was working as a consultant, Deloitte introduced a new concept “three-four-five – three nights on the road, four days at the client site and five total work days.” In the past, consultants spent the whole week traveling and were expected to work on weekends so the concept drastically changed the industry. Over the years, other firms adopted the practice, allowing consultants to spend more time at home, especially on the weekends.

Finding the balance is still a challenge, but Cockfield emphasized that “at the end of the day it’s making it work and figuring out how to find the pockets for yourself through it all.”

Part of finding the pockets is learning when to say no. For new hires, it can be more difficult to turn anything down because they’re still learning and proving themselves. However, once consultants prove themselves and begin to move to higher positions, they can start to think more about what works best for them and vocalizing their preferences.

Support networks

Even with the concept of three-four-five, consultants still spend large amounts of time on the road away from friends and family. This means they need a strong support network. However, it’s important to distinguish between personal and professional networks.

Cochran described that when you’re on a project for a long time, you develop strong bonds with your team, but when the project ends you’ll be staffed on another project and everyone from your previous team disperses. While you still have connections with members of the team, you lose the daily support network. To create a stable support network, you need to build a personal community and separate that from your professional communities.

Cockfield offered advice for building and maintaining that personal community. “It’s really important as women in consulting to have conversations with people who matter to you the most,” she said. “My husband and I have a conversation every year, and we call it our state of the union. We evaluate how this last year has gone, what he felt like he was missing, and what I felt like I could have done better. We personally have made a pact that if ever that conversation goes something like ‘this isn’t working for me,’ I will make the adjustment because that is what matters to me.”

Cochran added some context: “Our careers aren’t linear, so I encourage you to constantly evaluate life changes, new projects and consulting.”

By Kelly McNeil (BSBA’19)