Women in Consulting: Progress Made, Plenty of Work Left to Do

This post is part of an ongoing series on Women in Consulting; make sure to check our blog regularly for more great content!


There is extensive research that provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth and return on investments. McKinsey’s ongoing research on diversity has found that companies, in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity, are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. The research also demonstrates that those companies, in the top quartile for gender diversity, are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

The value of diversity is particularly relevant for the consulting sector. When companies partner with consultants that value and reflect diversity, they open themselves up to new opportunities for business growth and innovation. 

In Canada's consulting profession, women already make up 47% of the workforce, according to a 2022 Deloitte report. This is a substantial improvement over the 39% reported in a 2015 comparable Deloitte report. The consulting sector’s growing understanding of the value of diversity has led to investments designed to create more inclusive workplaces both for themselves and for their clients

While progress has been made, and despite the fact that women account for over half of the consulting workforce, they are still notably underrepresented in leadership positions. In consulting businesses, just 24% of partners and principals are female. The range of viewpoints and experiences that are brought to consulting projects may suffer as a result of this underrepresentation in the top echelons of the industry.

In a more recent report by McKinsey & Company published in 2022, it was found that there are significant disparities in the representation of women of different racial and ethnic backgrounds in the consulting industry. While women make up 47% of the industry overall, only 10% are women of colour. This lack of diversity is especially pronounced at the leadership level, where only 2% of partners and principals are women of colour.

These trends are concerning, as it means that the consulting industry may not be fully equipped to provide clients with the insights and solutions needed to address complex business challenges that arise in diverse settings.

There are some encouraging indicators that the industry is recognizing and addressing this diversity gap. Numerous consulting companies are putting strategies in place to support diversity and inclusion, such as training on unconscious bias, mentorship programmes, and recruitment campaigns that specifically target underrepresented groups. For instance, McKinsey & Company has committed to boosting the participation of women of colour in its leadership ranks, while Deloitte has set a target of 50% female leadership representation by 2030.

The industry's overall representation of women consultants in Canada has improved significantly, but more needs to be done to guarantee that women of different racial and cultural origins are equally represented.

In addition to gender and racial/ethnic diversity in the consulting industry, it is also important to consider the diversity of the 2SLGBTQQIA+ and intersectionality. According to a report published by McKinsey & Company in 2021, LGBTQ2+ employees are underrepresented in leadership positions across all industries in Canada, including the consulting profession.

One of Canada's top consulting companies, KPMG, has acknowledged the value of diversity and inclusion in its workforce. In order to support the 2SLGBTQQIA+ population, the corporation has implemented a variety of measures, including collaborating with the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion to create a 2SLGBTQQIA+ inclusion training programme for its staff. KPMG also takes part in the Pride at Work Canada programme, a non-profit that aids employers in establishing 2SLGBTQQIA+-welcoming workplaces.

In addition to publicly pledging support for diversity and inclusion, KPMG has also established goals to boost the participation of underrepresented groups in leadership roles. For instance, the business wants to see a 30% rise in female leadership positions by 2025 and a 20% increase in visible minority leadership positions. In 2023, KPMG was recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers by Mediacorp Canada Inc.

One of Canada's biggest financial services firms, Sun Life, has taken action to encourage young female consultants and advance inclusion and diversity throughout its workforce. They introduced a "Women in Consulting" initiative in 2022 with the intention of assisting female consultants in the advancement of their careers. The initiative offers female consultants in the organisation networking, mentoring, and professional development possibilities.

Sun Life has also implemented other initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion in its workforce. For example, the company has a Diversity and Inclusion Council and offers unconscious bias training to its employees. Sunlife has set targets for increasing the representation of women, visible minorities, and individuals with disabilities in leadership positions.  

In recent years, there have been a number of positive steps taken to promote the growth of women in the consulting industry. Amongst these steps are:

1. Increased focus on diversity and inclusion including, setting targets for increasing the representation of women in leadership roles.

2. Improved work-life balance, with more flexible work arrangements offering part-time or remote work options.

3. Support for women entrepreneurs: recent program development to support growth by providing mentorship, funding, or other resources.

4. Recognition and awards: There are increased recognition of the accomplishments of women in consulting, through awards and other forms of recognition.

All of these actions have contributed to improving the working climate and environment for women in consulting and are helping women advance and succeed in the field.

The progress that has been accomplished is positive and signals a bright future for women in consulting, even while there is still progress to be made to address issues like the gender pay gap and the underrepresentation of women in leadership roles.

Overall, these steps create positive growth for women in consulting. By increasing representation, providing mentorship and sponsorship, offering training and development, and promoting diversity and inclusion, companies are creating a more welcoming and supportive environment for women in the industry. This can help women advance in their careers and make meaningful contributions to the consulting industry and the value derived by clients.


Contributors to this post include:


Additional Sources:

1. CMC-Canada Industry Report 2022

2. Deloitte Women @ Work 2022: A Global Outlook

3. McKinsey & Company - Women in the Workplace, 2022

4. KPMG People Landing Page

5. KPMG Diversity Efforts

6. Sun Life Diversity and Inclusion Landing page

7. Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report The Economic Well-Being of Women in Canada, Stats Canada, 2018  

8. Women @ Work, 2022: A Global Outlook

9. Deloitte. Consulting Industry Outlook, 2023

10. McKinsey & Company. Diversity Wins: How Inclusion Matters, 2020

11. Boston Consulting Group. What It Takes to Build Inclusive Workplaces, 2021

12. World Economic Forum, Gender Gap Report 2022