International Women’s Day Q&A

Did you know March 8 is International Women’s Day? We connected with a few of North Highland’s female leaders to discuss what the day means to them.

  • Elisabeth Coates (Master Practitioner – London)
  • Barbara Ray (Managing Director, Portfolio Group Lead and Board of Managers member – Atlanta)
  • Laura Cameron (Master Practitioner– London)
  • Julia Beaumont (Associate Vice President – London)
  • Chelsey Dudash (Principal – St. Louis)
  • Jill Jacques (Global Financial Services Lead – Atlanta)
  • Lauren Childers (Managing Director & CFO – Atlanta)
  • Jennifer Mancuso (Vice President of HR – Atlanta)

Q: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

Elisabeth: Personally, it’s really the only time of the year that I think about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace. I think it’s a good thing that it’s not something that I feel I’m consciously thinking about on a day to day basis.

Laura: For me it’s about focus to recognize, educate and celebrate the amazing achievements however small or large through history, what women have achieved in the present day and how real change has been created. But most importantly, International Women’s Day serves as inspiration!

Julia: It’s two things for me. One, it’s a day to consciously reflect on how far we’ve come, celebrating the amazing achievements on women around the world today and in history. And it is also a time to highlight how far we still must go to achieve gender equality.

Chelsey: I’ve been fortunate to work with and for many incredible women – strong and talented women who have been my managers, mentors, colleagues and friends, and all of whom have immense impact on my career to-date. While I lived in New York, I worked for a women’s fashion designer, Nili Lotan. She’s an Israeli-born designer, former member of the Israeli Air Force and probably influenced me the most in terms of how and why I ended up in consulting. She opened my eyes to what goes into running a successful business and trusted me to play strategic roles in many aspects of it. I think that working for her is what ultimately led me to go back to school for my MBA and enter this industry.

Jill: International Women’s Day gives us all a dedicated time to stop, reflect, and (re)commit. In the US, we typically view it through the lens of parity in the workforce, but we should also take time to realize the violence, injustice, and inequalities that occur around the world against women – most of which we cannot fathom in our environments.

Q: Elisabeth, you were the Management Consulting Association’s “Change Management Consultant of the Year” in 2018. And Chelsey, you were recognized last year as a “Rising Star of the Profession.” Both of you are making an incredible mark on the firm and on the consulting industry. What is your advice for women who want to be leaders?

Elisabeth: For me, leadership isn’t about your position within an organization, it’s about your mindset. I think consulting provides a great opportunity for you to start gaining leadership skills early on in your career. With the roles we do crossing client work, practice development, business development and developing others there are a wealth of opportunities to take on leadership roles, but you need to be both open-minded and proactive in order to capitalize on them. I’d also say be yourself and be open about where you’re finding things challenging.

Chelsey: It was such an honor to be named a “Rising Star” in Strategy by Consulting Magazine last year! The best advice I would offer to women who want to be leaders or are just starting out: seek out mentors and leaders that you admire and want to emulate. Then ask those leaders and mentors to challenge you—the ways you think and the ways you work. The best leaders I’ve had the privilege of knowing have presented me with opportunity after opportunity to grow, and that growth has been challenging and downright uncomfortable. Lean into the discomfort and embrace it as a necessary ingredient for growth.  

Q: Research shows the CFO level is more than 80-percent male. Question for Lauren Childers: having reached this position and held other senior finance positions in large companies, can you share more about the challenges along the way and how you’ve overcome them?

Lauren: Yes, CFOs - as well as many other executive positions - are male-dominated professions. My personal experience led me to try to play straight down the middle. In other words, ensure I was consistently performing at my tip-top potential, trying to keep my gender out of it. Sure, there have been plenty of times with previous employers when I didn’t get the invite to dinner - because it would be awkward with the CEO’s wife - but the COO did when he came to town. Or the invite for the round of golf on Saturday went to the (male) CIO. I try to treat everyone fairly, but surely try to play it fair and balanced on the things that should not matter in the workplace! Focusing on getting the job done to the best of your ability, while keeping a high degree of emotional intelligence, will take you far. 

Q: Barbara, you were recently elected to our firm’s Board of Managers, filling a role previously held by Anne Game. Leading the firm as a Managing Director, Portfolio Group Lead and now Board member, can you share your experience of what it means to be a female role model in the industry?

Barbara: While our firm has a larger percentage of female executives than our peers, it is not lost on me that female leaders in our industry and many other industries, are still a smaller percentage than their male counterparts. The same dynamic is true for female representation on corporate boards. Through my words and deeds, I intend to demonstrate that confidence, clarity and courage are powerful leadership traits when combined with care, compassion and integrity. I would advise other women to be confident in their abilities, direct in their needs and expectations and never underestimate their potential!

Q: Jennifer, as our firm’s HR leader, how has your team approached the goal of ensuring our firm is a place where women can build successful careers?

Jennifer: I feel fortunate to work at a firm where we have female leadership on our board and in senior leadership who have been with the firm for many years and throughout various stages of their careers and lives. This demonstrates that we are a firm where women can build successful careers and grow with us as a firm as their personal and professional pursuits evolve.

My team has been involved in partnering with our Women in North Highland Employee Resource Group to create avenues for women to achieve their success. We have offered a variety of leadership development opportunities to encourage women to pursue leadership roles. What I’m proud of is that our leadership team is committed to ensuring we have a diversity among leadership and that we have created an environment of belonging for our diverse population where they feel included and essential to the firm’s success.

Q: Have you seen a shift in attitudes or cultural expectations towards women since you started your careers?

Laura: I started my career in an engineering consulting firm, which has changed over the years. I have experienced some situations that I’d rather not remember, but I have also been provided opportunities that have led me where I am today and still then encouraging me to be and do more. Moving to North Highland, I saw an immediate positive difference and haven’t felt any challenges due to my gender in the workplace. I think the role models are key and we need to keep a focus on that.

Julia: I’ve seen a huge change on a societal level through conversations and activism. When I started as an analyst, inequality wasn’t something that was talked about very much, just something that was accepted. Now it feels like we’re making huge progress with recognizing the issues and building momentum to driving change.

Jill: Absolutely! In Financial Services, the industry has always been male-dominated – from leadership representation to workplace policies to corporate cultures. However, in recent years, I have been excited to be a part of client environments that are more equally represented where women’s viewpoints are acknowledged, addressed and rewarded. Ten years ago, in my previous company, I was at an executive golfing event where I was denied entering the club with my colleagues because it was male-only. The expectation was I could be equal in some areas, but not others. Now, I work with clients that have 45 percent women in leadership and on the board, with an intentionality toward parity – a goal for all companies to strive for. With more women at the table with me, the expectations change to “what I know” versus my gender, and that’s a wonderful advancement.

Q: What’s your advice to other women progressing their careers?

Laura: The best advice I have been given is be yourself and know yourself. Also, find your focus and be open to create opportunities, even if you’re don’t think you’re ready. Resilience and team are key so build it, experience it and make conscious decisions to achieve what you want.

Julia: Be conscious about what’s holding you back for achieving your career goals and think hard about whether this could be a result of your gender. Then push yourself to think about whether you could approach things differently. Whether it’s being bold about an opportunity, asking for a pay rise or thinking about how you might balance your career with life outside work.

Lauren: One of the most important lessons I have learned is that there aren’t certain number of “spots” for women. You may have heard of something called the “Queen Bee Syndrome,” which is where a woman in a position of power, will attempt to block other women to ascending into a leadership role for fear of competition in the number of “women-held” spots. I experienced that at a previous employer – and worked through it because of the business knowledge I brought – but there’s simply no need for that. There are plenty of spots for talented people of all genders, races, and ethnicities.

Jennifer: Set your priorities and continue to reset them as your needs evolve. Ensure your actions align to those priorities so you can achieve the life you want and the career you want. Communicate your needs and priorities upfront (and often) so that you set clear expectations amongst your teams and leaders of how you will operate. Own your vision for your career and your life – we each are enabled to be the person and professional we want to be here at North Highland!