The firms – PwC, Accenture, IBM, KPMG and PA Consulting – are collaborating with the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) and She’s Back to identify why experienced women are leaving the workplace and not returning.
The firms have launched a survey encouraging women who have left their profession to give a no holds barred account of their experience. Their findings will be revealed in April.
"This is an exciting project because the five really want to move beyond the rhetoric and take some concrete steps to make things change," said Lisa Unwin, founder of She's Back, an organisation which aims to help women return to work after a career break. "What will help this is hearing the voices of some of those who left. And the more voices we hear, the louder the message will become."
Nick Jarman, consulting people partner at PwC, remarked:
"If we understand the barriers, we can help women get more support and opportunities to re-start their careers in consulting, and encourage more talented women back into the profession. We want to create an environment where these women can thrive and our clients can benefit from their skills and experience."
Alan Leaman, chief executive of the MCA, added that management consulting was a "great career for both men and women, and one which should be able to easily accommodate the needs of working parents.
"But, as in many other professions, despite recruiting male and female graduates in relatively equal numbers, women begin to disappear at the more senior grades. We need to change that."
Less than a fortnight ago, Carolyn Fairbairn, the new director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), warned that British businesses were still too geared towards men and could do more to offer initiatives like childcare, care for elderly relatives and flexible working policies to help retain female executives.
Last month, a report by Right Management, part of the ManpowerGroup, found that global leaders felt that gender equality in the workplace was still 17 years away. Millennial women were the most pessimistic about their prospects, forecasting that it would take 22 years for equality in the office to be achieved.