Breaking Barriers: Women Leaders in Consulting

Women Leaders in Consulting Achievement AwardsOn Nov. 1, we launched a new chapter as we unveiled a new honor to the industry – Consulting magazine’s Achievement Awards: Women Leaders in Consulting. The gala at the Waldo-Astoria in New York was an event that was, in our opinion, long overdue. Even though women make up only about a quarter of the profession, their collective impact on the industry is far greater. Quite frankly, we think it’s about time the industry sat up and took notice of the accomplishments of the women in consulting. And took notice they did. More than 160 leaders of the profession came together to celebrate the accomplishments of five women, all at very different stages of their careers. In some cases, they are industry veterans who have spent decades sharpening their skills and leading business strategies. In other cases, they are rising stars, poised to be the leaders of the next generation of consulting. But despite the differences, the five award recipients are best defined by their similarities. They are leaders in their firms and leaders in their disciplines. And while we realize consulting remains a team sport –indeed, each said they couldn’t have done it without their firms and co-workers –we single out these five women because of their outstanding accomplishments, their leadership, their service to clients and their potential for excellence. Collectively, they represent all that is good about the profession.

Orit Gadiesh has spent more than three decades with Bain & Company and today serves as the firm’s chairman. As a woman who spoke little English when she enrolled at Harvard Business School and began her consulting career in the steel industry, she has had to overcome more than a few obstacles along the way to being named one of “The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World in 2005, 2006 and 2007 by Forbes magazine. She is the recipient of our Lifetime Achievement Award.

Sharon Marcil is a senior partner and leads the women’s initiative at The Boston Consulting Group. Since assuming the lead on the initiative in 2004, the number of BCG women in North America has increased 35 percent. In July, she was named one of our Top 25 Consultants. Marcil is the recipient of our Client Service Award. Cathleen Benko is vice chairman and managing principal and Chief Talent Officer at Deloitte & Touche USA. She is responsible for driving the organization’s strategy to attract, develop and advance a highly skilled and increasingly diverse workforce. Benko is the recipient of our Leadership Award. Our two Future Leader Award winners are Lauren Chewning of Accenture and Margot Johnston of Oliver Wyman. Chewning is a senior manager at Accenture, where she works to help clients across industries and geographies grow their businesses through innovation and accelerate their innovation agenda. Johnston is a senior associate at Oliver Wyman. She led the creation of a 10-year global demand forecast for both seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines and an analysis of the impact of diseases in the developing world.

We highlight each award recipient in the following 14-page Women Leaders in Consulting special section. And yes, it’s about time.

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Orit Gadiesh, Chairman, Bain & CompanyOrit Gadiesh knows how to get a point across. On one of her very first assignments with Bain & Company in 1977, Gadiesh faced a unique situation with an executive at a steel company. Preparing for a tour of the plant, the CFO told her that women were considered bad luck in steel companies. Gadiesh, sensing the awkwardness in the room, said, “Well then, I guess we should make sure I visit every one of your competitors.” Everyone in the room laughed, and the ice was broken so “we could get down to business,” Gadiesh says.

“I think what helped me be a better businessperson is the fact that I didn’t pay much attention to the fact that I was a woman; I really didn’t think about it much,” she says. “There were some issues at the beginning with clients at Bain, but I found that using a sense of humor rather than getting upset worked for me. I knew I just had to make clients feel comfortable. Once I did that, they started listening more to what I was saying and doing rather than focusing on the fact that I was a woman.”
Women Leaders in Consulting, Orit Gadiesh
But the path to Bain was filled with challenges though Gadiesh overcame every one. As the daughter of an Israeli general and a member of the Israeli army herself, Gadiesh says she learned the impact of decisions and actions from the debates the Israeli generals had in the war room. Once she was out of the army, Gadiesh went to work for the Israeli consulate in New York. A co-worker at the consulate convinced her to apply to Harvard Business School. Even though she spoke very little English at the time, she graduated from HBS as a Baker scholar in the Top 5 percent of her class and received the Brown Award for the most outstanding marketing student.

A few months later, she joined Bain & Company as the first female consultant in the firm. “When I joined Bain & Company, it was one office in Boston, basically. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I didn’t know anything about consulting when I came to the United States,” she says. “I didn’t know I was going to be a consultant, and I didn’t know that I would stay this long, and I definitely didn’t know that I was going to be in a senior position in consulting.”

Gadiesh rose through the ranks quickly becoming a vice president in 1982, just five years after joining Bain. She was named executive vice president in 1988, director in 1990, vice chairman in 1992 and chairman a year later—an incredible climb up the corporate ladder, particularly for a woman in a male-dominated profession.

“Inside Bain, there was never an issue with my being a woman, even though there were no women consultants before me,” Gadiesh says. “Consulting is pretty demanding independent of what gender you are. I think focusing on what makes you a good consultant rather than what would make me a good woman consultant was very much to my advantage. That’s just the way that I am. I guess I have to thank my parents for the way that I was brought up.”

One of her proudest moments at Bain & Company, Gadiesh says, is helping to lead the firm through a very turbulent time in the early 1990s. “I was part of a leadership group that turned around Bain & Company in the early ’90s, and then helped rebuild it over the next several years. The key was that a group of us got together and really decided what Bain & Company was all about. In a very difficult time, we managed to keep all of the key people and all of our key clients when it seemed just about everyone said it couldn’t be done.”

What Bain did, Gadiesh says, was go back to the original philosophy of Bill Bain—results, not reports. “Those were Bill Bain’s words, and that’s what initially attracted me to Bain,” she says. “I love the approach we have to our clients that emphasizes results. I love the unique culture we have at Bain that helps accomplish that. I like the problem-solving aspect of consulting; I like the face-to-face time with clients; I like working in teams; I like the international aspect of consulting; I love the fact that when you’re confronted with a problem with an international client, you may have to get the answer and communicate it a different way. I thrive on those challenges, and I love it when the client is delighted with the results.”

After three decades at Bain, Gadiesh says some things have changed, but at its core, consulting is still all about delivering those results.

“The world is moving faster. A lot has changed; the tools we use have changed—certainly, we
didn’t use computers as much 25 years ago—and businesses changes—private equity didn’t exist in the same form—but the essence of what you’re doing hasn’t changed,” Gadiesh says. “It’s still about getting to the bottom of an issue and bringing in the tools to solve it. It’s still about getting results.”

For helping drive those results for more than 30 years at Bain & Company, Gadiesh is the recipient of Consulting magazine’s Women Leaders in Consulting Lifetime Achievement Award. “It’s a tremendous honor, and I think it’s a validation of Bain’s approach and passion. I think this award is really for all the people at Bain and our alumni. They’re all the ones who put Bain where it is today.”

So, what’s next for Gadiesh? “I’m pretty passionate about what I do, and I plan to continue to do it, and I plan to continue to have fun doing it. Being part of this firm and continuing to work with our clients and our people keeps me going. I work for the best consulting firm in the world, and I really can’t imagine doing anything else. I honestly can say that.”

—Joseph Kornik

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Cathleen Benko, Chief Talent Officer, Deloitte & Touche USAWith a background in transformational change, it’s little wonder that Cathleen Benko has risen through the ranks at Deloitte to chief talent officer. With the changing dynamics of acquisition and retention, she’s on the front lines of the war for talent.

“In this profession,” Benko says, “talent is the product. It’s not just the support, but it’s actually what we sell.” She cites a number of trends affecting the talent market today—not just the predictable boomer exit, but the nuances of Generation X, Generation Y and the Millenials, men’s desire to have more family time, and the challenge to keep women in the workforce.

Benko knows a lot about the challenges women face in the consulting industry; she heads Deloitte’s Women’s Initiative, which has been in existence for about 15 years. Women have specific development needs, Benko says, such as getting appropriate recognition for their efforts. However, the initiative also has given rise to innovation at Deloitte, such as the Women as Buyers program, which aims to teach men about female communication styles in the marketplace. In Benko’s ideal world, however, no Women’s Initiative would exist. “We all see a world where a lot of the needs for a women’s initiative would actually cease over time.”

In addition to her Deloitte responsibilities, Benko also has written two books: Connecting the Dots and Mass Career Customization; the latter was released in September. “Actually, I don’t like to write!” Benko admits. “I was asked to do the first book by the firm, so I did. And [I thought] I was hanging up my quill, but when we started to look very seriously at this notion of customizing careers, we got a call from Harvard [Business School] Press, who said, ‘This is a big idea, and we want to do a project.’”

Benko says despite all of these hats, she cherishes the hat she wears of wife and mother. “I have two kids in elementary school, so I’m into whatever they’re into. During the Pokemon craze, I had memorized all those characters. Now it’s more soccer games and basketball games and ballet recitals, so my leisure time is really spent with my kids and my husband.”

Benko’s path to the C-suite had a somewhat untraditional start. After high school, she attended secretarial school and got a job in the field. But after starting her own consulting firm, she went back to school and got her degree from Harvard. A summer intern for Deloitte, Benko has stayed with the firm ever since and is based in its San Francisco office. She rose through the ranks handling transformational change projects that often required knowledge of both technology and strategy.

As for the award, Benko says, “It is taking me a while to absorb it. I’m humbled by it. And I very much appreciate the acknowledgement and the recognition. [Deloitte] has provided me with phenomenal opportunities to make a difference. We have some very bold and enlightened leadership in our organization, which affords ultimately this kind of recognition from our industry.”

Benko says despite her professional and personal challenges she recommits to her life decisions every day. “I get up every morning and I mentally reup. Can I do this for another day? Can I serve my clients, and can I serve the firm, and can I care for my family? I’m very deliberate about whether or not I can continue to make it work,” she says, adding, “None of us know how we do it, and none of us knows how each other does it, but we do what we need to do. And in many respects, I feel blessed.”

—Jacqueline Durett

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Sharon Marcil, Senior Partner, The Boston Consulting GroupAfter seven years with The Boston Consulting Group, Sharon Marcil was made a partner in 2000. While that timing is not all that uncommon, what could be considered unique is where Marcil was when it happened—on maternity leave following the birth of her second child. Of course, all that could be chalked up to a simple matter of coincidence. But, for Marcil, now a senior partner, the timing was no coincidence. “BCG allows you to be more of yourself. There are very different models in terms of success. I do think that it’s easier—potentially—as a woman at BCG because I think the firm allows you various ways to be successful,” Marcil says. “I think BCG is a very entrepreneurial environment, and I recognized this the moment I joined.”

As a woman leader at the firm, Marcil has been instrumental in the success of the firm’s Women’s Initiative. Since she began leading the initiative three years ago, the number of BCG women in North America has increased 35 percent.

“If you look back 10 or 15 years, BCG has been historically very strong in terms of the percentage of women at the firm, particularly in the U.S.,” Marcil said. “We had one of the first female partners when Sandy Moose ran the New York office. There was a time, when we were a smaller firm, that the New York office was half female. So, we looked at the data and we said, what were we doing then that we’re not doing now? Why is it that we’re getting fewer women now in the recruiting pipeline, and why is it that we’re having such attrition?”

Marcil won’t reveal specifically what the firm did, but it’s certainly paid off. One major area of focus, she says, was how the firm went about attracting, recruiting and retaining women. “From a recruiting standpoint, I think we figured out that we were fishing [in the wrong] pools to find the most talented women,” she says. “We were actually missing out on some of the most talented women because we weren’t looking in the right places. On the retention side, there were some things that we were doing that were hindering recruiting. They were things around career development, mentoring and coaching. We were able to address them via an informal mentorship program as well as formally with training programs.”

As far as being a woman in the profession, Marcil says she’s never had anything but complete commitment from BCG. “The firm has been incredibly supportive,” she says.

That support contributes to much of the success Marcil’s had at the firm and with clients. She has worked her way up the ladder by staying focused on her clients in the retail and consumer fields, adding that those “clients are what it’s all about.”

Marcil has spent the majority of her career in those two fields—areas where clients are used to working with women, she says. For her outstanding service to clients throughout the years, Marcil was named the recipient of the Client Service Award.

“For me, it’s extremely gratifying,” Marcil says. “As a firm, I think it’s a great signal that BCG is a place where a woman can be successful. I am just one, and I happened to get the award, which is terrific.But honestly, I’m just one of many women who have all been successful at BCG. From a firm perspective, it’s very gratifying because it kind of proves the original concept of our Women’s Initiative—women can be real leaders in our organization.”

—Joseph Kornik

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Lauren Chewning, Senior Manager, AccentureLauren Chewning likes to make things happen. As a senior manager for Accenture’s Growth and Innovation Strategy Group, she’s able to work on projects that require new ideas and a fresh outlook. “One of the great things about being a strategist within Accenture is we’re able to actually make things happen instead of just recommend that they happen,” Chewning says. “The types of projects that I work on are anything from building innovation capabilities to helping clients decide on what new markets, new products and new services they’ll offer.”

She’s certainly qualified to be advising them on those topics, given her professionally diverse background. Following her undergraduate studies in economics at Georgetown, Chewning worked at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, then did a two-year stint at McKinsey & Company. She then received her MBA from Darden Business School at the University of Virginia, then worked for Dell before starting with Accenture 18 months ago.

“Lauren has fire in her belly, and I really look for that when I look for younger individuals who I want to groom and help move forward in their careers,” says Toni Langlinais, North American lead for Accenture’s strategy practice. Langlinais, who nominated Chewning for the Future Leader Award, has worked with Chewning on a number of projects, including a recent strategy project for a large national bank. Says Langlinais of Chewning: “I was impressed with her within ten minutes of meeting her.”

Chewning says she and Langlinais share a very close professional and personal relationship. “At times it feels like we don’t take a breath unless we take it together. I’ve really, really enjoyed getting to work with her and getting to learn from her over the past year and a half.”

Chewning says the award means a great deal to her. “I really think I would call this one of my greatest professional achievements to date because I feel so personally connected to the work that I’m doing here,” she says, adding, “I grew up going to an all-girls school; I participate in the Junior League; I’m very involved in a number of women-focused organizations, so the fact that this is an award that’s specifically focused on women is really important to me.”

One of those women-focused organizations is Accenture’s Great Place to Work for Women group, in which Chewning says she has benefited from the camaraderie among women of all levels at the company. “One of the great things about this firm is that we have quite a lot of women leads in very, very senior positions. This is a wonderful firm in that regard.”

Chewning, who is based out of Accenture’s Reston, Va., office, lives with her husband, Eric, in Charlottesville, Va. Eric, who is currently getting his degree at Darden, also works in consulting, specializing in aerospace and defense.

Does she consider it a challenge to have a similar career to her husband? “Yes, I do! We both are attracted to the industry for the same reasons— to be able to do strategic problem solving on a day-to-day basis.”

As for her off hours, Chewning makes the most of those frequent flier miles. “I really enjoy traveling, which is one of the reasons I enjoy this job. [Eric and I] just took a trip to the Greek islands.”

Langlinais says she sees a very bright future for Chewning. “She’s clearly in the right space in my mind. And she will have a very, very bright future as a consultant. A real test for me is, ‘Could I see myself working for this person?’ And I would absolutely see myself, were that situation presented, working for her.”

—Jacqueline Durett

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Margot Johnston, Senior Associate, Oliver WymanMargot Johnston is all about impact. Since joining Oliver Wyman’s Toronto office in 1999 as an analyst, Johnston has focused her time and energy on taking business management principles she’s learned at the firm and applying them to non-profit organizations, specifically those working on social and health issues. “I think what motivates me both personally and professionally is the knowledge that I have a real opportunity to make an impact, and having the opportunity to make a difference makes me excited,” Johnston says. “A lot of the work I’ve done in the firm and outside the firm—and in many cases with the firm’s help—have been along those themes. I’m motivated by the opportunity to make a difference both for my clients but also in my community and, hopefully, in some small way in the world more broadly.”

Some of her highest-impact work has been within Oliver Wyman’s health and life sciences practice in the space of global public health. “Through my work with non-profit organizations and foundations, I have done a number of projects that have focused on increasing access for vaccines in developing world populations, Johnston says. “I’ve taken my business background and applied it to health issues, and through those projects I hope I’ve had an impact on the health of individuals in the developing world.”

Most recently, she’s worked on a project related to pandemic flu. It’s this type of work and dedication that has earned Johnston, now a senior associate with the firm, a Future Leader Award as one of Consulting magazine’s Women Leaders in Consulting.

“It’s an honor and it’s a privilege to be honored in the company with such accomplished people, women or otherwise.” Johnston says. “A lot of the success I have had is due to the mentoring that I’ve received from other colleagues along the way. They’ve helped me to become a better consultant, and they’ve helped me with the decision to settle on my current career path.”

Johnston credits Oliver Wyman with allowing her to pursue her personal and professional interests of working with non-profit organizations. The firm’s non-profit fellowship program enabled her to work for six months with a Canadian organization and allowed her to volunteer in Ghana on a small business management project.

“Since I joined the firm in 1999, I’ve been consistently amazed and impressed by the responsibility I have been given at Oliver Wyman this early in my career, and I’m not a unique case,” she says. “I think this Future Leader Award is great recognition of the work the firm does to develop young talent and provide opportunities for young people. It’s one of the great differentiators of [Oliver Wyman]—you have the opportunity to plot your own path and pursue your passions,” Johnston says. “Oliver Wyman has been very focused on providing me opportunities to pursue work that I’m passionate about. That’s allowed me to focus on a specific area early in my career and choose to specialize in an area I care about,” Johnston says.

Johnston says that she sees her immediate future in the consulting profession, but says she also has a passion for non-profits, and she cannot predict where she’ll be further along in her career.

“I really love what I do, I love the firm, and I love the people at Oliver Wyman,” Johnston says. “I’m learning a lot. I think I’m in a really good place right now.”

—Joseph Kornik

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Photography by David Neff Photography

Joe Kornik, editor-in-chief of Consulting magazine with Bain's Orit Gadiesh, the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award
Joe Kornik, editor-in-chief of Consulting magazine with Bain’s Orit Gadiesh, the winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Margot Johnston celebrates her Future Leader Award with her Oliver Wyman co-workers
Margot Johnston celebrates her Future Leader Award with her Oliver Wyman co-workers.

Women Leaders in Consulting Dinner

Future Leader Award winner Margot Johnston with Mike Weisel, a director and head of Oliver Wyman's Health and Life Sciences Practice
Future Leader Award winner Margot Johnston with Mike Weisel, a director and head of Oliver Wyman’s Health and Life Sciences Practice.

Brad Smith (left), publisher of Consulting magazine, and Doug Lattner, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting, with Cathleen Benko after receiving her Leadership Award
Brad Smith (left), publisher of Consulting magazine, and Doug Lattner, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting, with Cathleen Benko after receiving her Leadership Award.

Lauren Chewning celebrates her Future Leader Award with Accenture co-workers
Lauren Chewning celebrates her Future Leader Award with Accenture co-workers.

Sharon Marcil, a senior partner with The Boston Consulting Group, accepts her Client Service Award
Sharon Marcil, a senior partner with The Boston Consulting Group, accepts her Client Service Award.

Joe Kornik, editor-in-chief of Consulting magazine
Joe Kornik, editor-in-chief of Consulting magazine.

Doug Lattner, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting, presented the Leadership Award to Cathleen Benko
Doug Lattner, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting, presented the Leadership Award to Cathleen Benko.

Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Company, accepts her Lifetime Achievement Award
Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Company, accepts her Lifetime Achievement Award. In her speech, Gadiesh – who shows no signs of slowing down – refers to the award as her “Lifetime So Far Achievement Award,” and says Consulting magazine “is the only publication that truly understands what we do.”

Andrew Pasternak, director in the Life Sciences and Healthcare Practice at Oliver Wyman, presented the Future Leader Award to Margot Johnston
Andrew Pasternak, director in the Life Sciences and Healthcare Practice at Oliver Wyman, presented the Future Leader Award to Margot Johnston.

Margot Johnston, senior associate with Oliver Wyman, accepts her Future Leader Award
Margot Johnston, senior associate with Oliver Wyman, accepts her Future Leader Award.

Future Leader Award winner Lauren Chewning of Accenture with Toni Langlinais, managing director, North American strategy service line for Accenture
Future Leader Award winner Lauren Chewning of Accenture with Toni Langlinais, managing director, North American strategy service line for Accenture.

Steve Gunby, chairman of the Americas and senior partner with The Boston Consulting Group. Gunby presented Sharon Marcil her Client-Service Award
Steve Gunby, chairman of the Americas and senior partner with The Boston Consulting Group. Gunby presented Sharon Marcil her Client-Service Award.

Dave Johnson, managing partner of Bain's Boston office and leader of the firm's northeast region, presented Bain Chairman Orit Gadiesh with the Lifetime Achievement Award
Dave Johnson, managing partner of Bain’s Boston office and leader of the firm’s northeast region, presented Bain Chairman Orit Gadiesh with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

In her acceptance speech for her Leadership Award, Deloitte's Cathleen Benko thanked her collegues, her family, her firm and Consulting magazine for recognizing the accomplishments of women leaders in consulting
In her acceptance speech for her Leadership Award, Deloitte’s Cathleen Benko thanked her collegues, her family, her firm and Consulting magazine for recognizing the accomplishments of women leaders in consulting.

Lauren Chewning, senior manager with Accenture, accepts her Future Leader Award
Lauren Chewning, senior manager with Accenture, accepts her Future Leader Award.

Brad Smith, publisher of Consulting magazine
Brad Smith, publisher of Consulting magazine.

Photography by David Neff Photography

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