Stephanie, Business Analyst from Sydney, shares with us what her working world looks like now, how workplaces can help people be their authentic selves, and why it is so important to speak up and challenge gender stereotypes...
What has been the biggest lesson from your consulting career so far?
There are so, so many ways to solve a problem. And to complicate matters, one approach is rarely inherently better than the other. Learning from the varied perspectives of my colleagues has taught me to think expansively and empathetically, and to always ask “how could we have done this differently?” when we have time to reflect.
A person’s ability to succeed in a role is strongly linked to how comfortable they feel sitting in their chair (metaphorically, though of course ergonomics are no joke). Have you ever started a task, or walked into a meeting, feeling that choke hold of imposter syndrome pulling you into that slow-thinking, babbling-answers dark abyss? Learning to dull the intensity of that feeling, and sometimes squash it completely, is one of the many extraordinary gifts working at Partners in Performance has given me. Working in an environment where failure is a learning opportunity rather than a punishable offence, where someone who doesn’t even work on your engagement will have daily calls to support you through a challenging time, or where you can share friendly banter with a Director... is just awesome.
What is it like working at Partners in Performance right now?
As anyone at Partners in Performance will tell you, the best thing about working here is the people. The humility, the support and the sheer intelligence of the people I get to work with constantly blows me away.
The firm’s response to the recent explosion of COVID-19 has been a phenomenal reminder of this. Leadership has communicated frankly and regularly; all available consultants are being utilised to innovate the way we provide products and services to survive the economic challenges ahead; and, the consultants staffed on engagements have been pivoting as much as required to ensure we are providing dynamic and comprehensive support to our clients. We have adopted new tools and ways of working (and socialising) to minimise contact and do our bit to stop the spread of the virus, keep connected and stay sane. The rollercoaster has just begun, but I’m glad I’m riding it out with Partners in Performance.
My temporary home office set up below... bunkered down at my parents place.
How do you balance life and work?
When I feel work wading into my personal life, or vice versa, my mantra is “be present”. Any boundary you draw between different parts of your life will be arbitrary; our work is constantly available to us, making it so easy to just answer one more email (and then there goes your early night!). So instead of saying I will leave work at the front door of my home, and leave Facebook unattended between 9am and 5pm, I focus on being present in the moment, whatever that moment may be. I do my best to plan my favourite and important activities ahead of time. Then in and around that, I prioritise my work and personal activities and attend to them on that basis. I trust the planning process and that enables me to make sure that wherever I am in any given moment, that is where my brain is too.
It's not a perfect solution, and I’m not perfect at executing it... but I’ll always keep trying to do better tomorrow!
What should workplaces do to make people feel comfortable being themselves at work?
The nature of our role in consulting – the travel, the hours – means we spend a lot more time together than colleagues do in other industries. In many ways, that makes it inevitable that our authentic selves leak out accidentally. The chat groups, the weekly blogs, the casual nature of our catch ups like our Day in The Office (DITO), and so much more empowers that authenticity to grow. It’s the people within the workplace that drive that kind of culture, not the “workplace” as if it were its own tangible being. So I think the people at Partners in Performance are what make this possible, and the people who do the hiring are what make it permanent.
What do you think is the biggest challenge for women in the consulting industry?
Traditional gender roles perhaps play a stronger role in consulting than in other arenas. The rate of female consultants exiting the industry after having children is an indictment on the ability of consulting firms to provide flexible and manageable working arrangements for families (i.e. mothers, fathers, and all manner of carers). I’ve heard stories from other firms of explicit discrimination against female consultants for having children, and of family planning questions being asked in interviews. Having more senior women in an organisation helps to alleviate unconscious bias and lack of female sponsors; these traditional gender stereotypes play a strong role in preventing the ascension of women to those positions.
What is your advice for other women just starting out in their consulting careers?
Speak up. I don’t just mean be confident in your views... Speak up by literally using the volume of your voice. As a young female in a male dominated industry, you will get talked over by your colleagues and sometimes ignored by your clients. This isn’t because of you, or because the people you’re working with are actively discriminating against women. It’s because unconscious bias is a deeply programmed societal norm that you (and me) probably participate in too. So, use your voice and get comfortable hearing the sound of it.