Management consultancies have a "huge opportunity" to attract back women who have left the industry, but must fully embrace more innovative and flexible ways of working, according to a new study.
A huge pool of talent is being lost in the consulting sector, as women who leave have on average eight years worth of experience, research by She's Back and the Management Consultancies Association (MCA) has found.
Over half (52 per cent) of those who left management consulting did so to work in a different sector, with less than a third (27 per cent) saying they had taken a career break.
A lack of flexibility was one of the key drivers for women leaving the industry, with 43 per cent citing "the need to work away from home at the drop of a hat" as a deterrent to staying in the sector. Meanwhile, 44 per cent were unimpressed with the "long hours culture" and 27 per cent less than happy about having "little opportunity for flexible working".
"If I were to go back I would need a few fundamental changes to be made to the way the business employs people like me," former consultant Anna Thom said.
"I want to be the master of my own time and my own destiny – I want to show my ability through what I achieve through outputs for the client, and not be chained to a desk for the sake of making up the hours."
The survey of over 400 women – former employees of 53 consulting firms – who have all now left the industry, was commissioned by the MCA and supported by IBM, PA Consulting Group, PwC and KPMG.
However, the good news is the research also found that despite these barriers, many women would return if the working cultures changed.
The survey found 42 per cent of women could be persuaded to return and 39 per cent said that working with great people on challenging projects would be a significant draw.
Some of the key reasons to attract women back which were cited as "critical" by respondents, include greater flexibility in "where and when" work takes place (77 per cent) and working in a supportive team (69 per cent). A further 15 per cent of women cited the importance of "a system that rewards output" as one of the factors that would encourage them back to work.
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Lisa Unwin, founder of She's Back, said: "If consulting is to attract back the talent and experience that it is losing, it’s vital that new, innovative, flexible ways of working become enshrined in corporate culture.
"What’s more, the importance of a greater work-life balance is important for employees across the workforce, irrespective of gender. All firms – both within consulting and outside of it – have to acknowledge in the interests of all their employees that more flexible work practices should become the norm."
She's Back is an organisation that helps businesses access the untapped potential of women who have left work to take a career break.