Sandra O. Moose, BCG Former Partner, Receives Lifetime Achievement Award
Experiences and Perspectives in Consulting
On November 11, 2010, Dr. Sandra O. Moose, a Boston Consulting Group (“”BCG”") Senior Advisor who joined the firm more than 40 years ago as its first female consultant, will be presented with Consulting magazine’s 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award at a gala in New York City. Dr. Moose has consulted to CEOs and top management teams in a broad range of industries and is believed to be one of the first female management consultants and one of the first to rise to the profession’s top ranks. I sat down with Dr. Moose to learn more about her experiences and insights in hopes of helping young men and women interested in consulting better understand the field.
What mistakes do you typically see recent business school graduates make during the beginning of their careers in consulting?
My experiences have been that most individuals do extremely well at consulting firms as a result of their formal and informal training at business school. The experience and general knowledge business school graduates display when starting at BCG has risen over the years, especially in terms of analytical capabilities. The classic mistake I see these individuals making is not asking for help early enough in the process and continually believing they can solve an issue on their own. I encourage each of you to ask for clarification and help when needed and not let it go until it reaches a breaking point. Everyone will be more than willing to pitch in and assist but you have to ask.
I think it is extremely helpful to keep a diary documenting your projects and experiences at the firm. This will help facilitate feedback and mentoring sessions in a way that might not happen if you rely on your memory to recall your thoughts from months past. I would also encourage you to be proactive in your careers. If you are feeling overwhelmed, speak up and check in with someone.
What are your thoughts and advice on the changes women in the current generation are making in terms of prioritizing work/life balance?
The expectations when young women start a career today are much different from when I started out. Women today fully expect they will balance both a family and career; this was not necessarily the case a few decades ago and women were more likely to expect, and also to make, trade-offs. However, I want to stress that is still very difficult to balance the two – regardless of the career path you pursue. Fundamentally, when you have two adults and three jobs in a family, you are going to have to juggle. The difference in the generation today is that families are much more willing to start the dialogue early on in their lives and careers on what the family expectations will be. I also want to emphasize that you cannot underestimate the time and energy demands that balancing a work and family take. Women are very aspirational and believe they can do it all and do it all at once. I encourage you to not be critical of yourselves and realize it is hard to be excellent at everything at once.
You helped found and later led BCG’s global Women’s Initiative. From your experiences, do you believe there are any downsides to the presence of active women’s groups in the workplace?
There are lots of issues out there on this subject. Some women simply don’t want to be seen as a supporter of these initiatives or fear retribution by men. Overall, I believe the momentum and support around women’s initiatives grows every year and men have increasingly become more supportive as well. I was attending an executive meeting a few years back and I invited all my female colleagues that were part of the meeting to join me for lunch to discuss some items related to our Women’s Initiative at BCG. One of my male colleagues commented that he was disappointed he was not invited. So I decided to include my male colleagues to a Women’s Initiative lunch the next time we all assembled together. This session was even more productive. Everyone left the lunch with a greater appreciation for women’s issues and perspectives.
One of the subtle barriers I notice that is prohibiting some women from reaching their full potential is the irrational fear of being assertive. I think too often women feel like goldfish in bowls – too visible with all eyes on them. I want to encourage women to speak up and not to fear retribution or disagreement with their comments. I will be visiting HBS on November 30th and speaking with the women from the RC class more on this topic so I encourage all those interested to attend. (Go to http://hbs.bcg.com for more details)
What is the one thing both men and women can do to help women and other minorities succeed in the workplace?
I would answer this question with the advice I gave to the BCG Executive Leadership team when they asked me a similar question. Look for women and minority candidates for all positions you fill. If no candidates are presented, ask for them. And, if a female or minority candidate is brought forward for a promotion and isn’t chosen, analyze the situation to see if there is an underlying problem that might need to be addressed to help them move through the pipeline more efficiently and effectively. The tone at the top is extremely important, but if you focus on these items, and stay supportive of the mission, the results will come. It isn’t in anyone’s best interest to force individuals into roles they are not ready for so the growth and promotion needs to be genuine and organic. Further, it’s important to recognize when you do have high-performing women and other minorities in your organizations. As a leader, make sure that person is nested in successful working relationships with mentors and is being given all the support he or she needs to succeed.
You serve on a number of nonprofit boards, including the Boston Public Library Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Museum of Science. What are your personal thoughts on volunteering your time?
I have always thought volunteering was very important but I encourage individuals to volunteer for causes they feel passionate about in their lives. There is real value added that we can all bring to this sector and people are so grateful for the talent and any help you can provide. Try to leverage your business skills when you volunteer and let the fact you are in a nonprofit domain be the difference maker.
Any final thoughts you want to leave with those considering a career in consulting?
In the real world, be aware that the problem is rarely laid out nicely in front of you like it usually is in the academic world. The client will also probably think they know what the problem is, but be ready to question them to figure out if there are sub-problems and a broader overall issue. Additionally, people aren’t necessarily forthcoming at times with the information and data you will need to do your job; be empathetic and put yourself in their shoes to figure out what they might be thinking. Once you have an overall sense of the problem, focus on different hypotheses or you will immediately be overwhelmed by the myriad of options and overwhelming amount of data. Learn how to package the results of your analysis. Know your audience when presenting to clients. Think about how you might best reach the client and remember that your goal should be to always come across as a credible, influential person with good common sense at the end of the day.
Courtney Davis is the Section E Harbus Representative.