More than ten years ago, The Boston Consulting Group established Women@BCG – an initiative to increase the number of women at the firm, as well as improve their success and satisfaction. At its core is a determination to make sure our work works for women.
A key components of this is talent development. At BCG, talent development is founded on apprenticeship: our people learn from seasoned colleagues by working alongside them. Globally, we are rolling out a new initiative called Apprenticeship in Action (AiA). This is changing our apprenticeship model to benefit everyone, and it is having a particularly positive impact for our women.
AiA was initially developed in the US, in partnership with leadership development firm BRANDspeak. It is based on three major learnings from qualitative and quantitative research with hundreds of BCG’s consultants, both women and men:
First, we found that both genders wanted our performance-feedback process to offer more opportunities to build on and further improve strengths, and to better address development goals. The AiA programme equips leaders to catalogue and unlock their teams’ strengths – and to avoid excessive focus on weaknesses.
Second, we found that while long-term professional relationships are valuable for everyone, they are especially important to women’s satisfaction and performance. AiA is introducing structures and processes to make sure consultants at every level sustain these performance enhancing relationships.
Finally, we found there was an opportunity to help some of our women to adopt a communication style that feels more authentic to them. We are doing this through a focus on communication effectiveness, including helping our leaders to understand different styles and the importance of developing a communication range.
As Lori Lepler, BRANDspeak’s founder and CEO who helped us drive the effort, said, “BCG’s leaders stepped back and dove into the issue with the same rigour they apply to their clients. This resulted in powerful changes.” The AiA initiative aims to improve the apprenticeship experience at BCG by recognising important and relevant gender differences. We believe that some of these insights could be useful to other companies, besides our own.
We know that embedding these changes to our apprenticeship model will not be easy, but we are determined. We have already made a similar radical change to our way of working by rolling out a global Flex working programme. (This enables part-time work and can provide up to an additional two months’ leave per year whilst retaining company benefits). As Stuart Quickenden, head of the London office, said, “We are deeply committed to the success of everyone at BCG, not just those who fit a specific mould. We want to create an environment where all our women and men feel supported and can succeed – and Apprenticeship in Action is one of a number of initiatives we are introducing to help us do that”.
This International Women’s Day, we recognise that our work in this space is far from over. But we also want to celebrate initiatives such as Apprenticeship in Action, and the progress many companies are making in ensuring their work works for women.