‘Leadership is taken, not given’: what five female consultants would tell their younger selves

The world of consulting is changing, with more flexible working options, bans on all-male shortlists and commitments to greater gender diversity in senior positions. However, as with most industries, there’s still a way to go to achieve equal numbers of women and men in top roles universally. One of the businesses making strides in that respect is PwC, which has a consulting executive team made up of equal numbers of men and women.

Here, five women from PwC’s consulting practice reflect on promotion, their work-life balance, and what they wish they’d known at the start of their careers.

‘It’s refreshing to see senior members of staff making time for school pick-ups’
The lightbulb moment for Dola Fashola came when she realised her career was a marathon, not a sprint. Fashola, director for customer experience and transformation, spent seven years at PwC before leaving to gain industry experience in financial services. She returned to her previous team just over a year ago, and admits that she missed consulting. “I love the variety of problems that we get to solve for our clients, and the diversity of people that I work with.”

One of the reasons she left PwC initially was the challenge of juggling a growing family alongside a busy consulting role. The flexibility provided by “The Deal” at PwC (an initiative that promotes flexible working) gave her the confidence to return as a mother of three. “There’s an innate trust in the organisation, in your teams and in yourself, that you can still deliver the high quality work that our clients are used to,” she says. “And as a mother of young children, it’s refreshing to see senior members of staff being open about childcare and making time for school pick-ups.”

She’d tell her younger self to think differently about feedback at work. “As a junior, when someone critiqued my work, I’d think, ‘Oh my God, I’ve done something wrong’. But it’s about being open to other people’s ideas, seeking support and asking for help.”

Antika Roy
Antika Roy, PwC senior associate

‘It’s important to sing your own praises’
Antika Roy, a programme and portfolio management senior associate, started her career as a geography teacher before doing a three-week internship with PwC which inspired her to change tack. She joined PwC in September 2019 and specialises in programme management, working mainly with public sector clients. While the transition has been challenging at times, she’s been surprised how many transferable skills she had. “As a teacher you learn to listen and try to help students process their feelings and troubleshoot situations,” she says. “With clients, you have to be understanding about what their challenges are and why they have certain frustrations.”

Roy takes advantage of The Deal to do yoga in the mornings or attend meetings in her role as a school governor. “We’re given that flexibility and ownership of our working days,” she adds.

She says the best advice she’s been given – and which she’d give her younger self – is about backing herself. “It’s important to sing your own praises and talk about your achievements.” Also work out where your interests lie. “Your personal development is always a priority.”

‘You’ll find your niche’
Chloe Carter was afraid she wouldn’t fit in when she first joined PwC’s graduate programme. “I come from Liverpool and my mum was a single parent with a low income,” she says. But her fears were allayed when one of her first projects was with a social housing company in her home city, and she realised she had valuable insights. “I walked away from that project thinking: ‘This is why I’m here.’”

Fast forward five years and Carter works as a delivery manager across digital transformation projects in the public sector. She loves the variety of consulting. “You can jump across different industries and roles.” Spending time on PwC’s reverse mentoring scheme – where younger staff members pass on skills to those in more senior roles – has also been rewarding, she adds.

She now spends time working with schools and universities to promote social mobility and inspire others from similar backgrounds. She’d reassure her younger self that things were going to turn out all right. “Just be comfortable with who you are and know that even if it feels a bit scary, you’ll get there and find your niche.”

Joanne Whalley
PwC partner Jo Whalley

‘My career sped up while I was on maternity leave’
When she made partner in January 2022, Jo Whalley became the first person from the consulting graduate programme to have progressed through all of the grades at PwC. Her turning point came when she led the first SAP programme the company implemented in the UK. “It was a career defining moment that set me on quite a different trajectory.”

As a partner, Whalley is running a big transformation programme with a client in Zurich, overseeing a wider portfolio of projects, and also supports people development. She always expected she’d have to leave consulting when she wanted to start a family but actually found her career sped up while on maternity leave. “I moved from director to partner in three years,” she says. “In some respects maternity leave made me feel more confident in my ability and more empowered than ever before.”

Whalley works from home a few days a week and is able to organise her working day around the nursery pickup and drop-off. Her advice to her younger self would be: “Don’t be constrained by what is there today. Be bold. Try things that work for you. Leadership is taken, not given and you can define what you want that to be.”

‘I’d probably tell myself to calm down’
Elsa Shaughnessy started her career at PwC as a receptionist in the welcome team after doing a degree in international hotel and tourism management in her native US. “People in consulting kept saying to me: ‘You’d be really good at consulting,’” she says. “One day I confessed that I had no idea what they did. I just liked problem-solving and working with people. And I was told: ‘That’s it. That’s consulting.’”

Shaughnessy joined the consulting graduate programme in 2014, and is now a senior manager, working on multi-year, multimillion-pound deals, collaborating with hundreds of people across the world. She’s also proud of the impact she’s been able to have through the firm’s LGBTQ+ network and leading inclusion and diversity for her business unit.

She admits to having had impostor syndrome early on, but partly credits her fast progression to a manager who taught her to champion herself. Her advice to her younger self would be to be patient. “I’d probably tell myself to calm down. I was so eager to be at the next stage for a long time. I didn’t appreciate how quickly things would actually move.”

Whether you’re just starting out or have a wealth of experience under your belt, find out more about career opportunities at PwC

The Guardian