The value of D&I in the consulting profession
The Gemic Salon Series is an internal discussion series encouraging critical dialogue and knowledge exchange between Gems of different backgrounds and disciplines. In this episode, Gems discuss what the business consulting profession can gain from and offer to cultural researchers, business strategists and innovators of diverse backgrounds.
What drew you to the business consulting profession and to Gemic in particular?
Pierre: “What drew me to strategy work and to work at Gemic in particular is that I feel that we’re not bound by industry insights. I feel that the best type of strategy is where we bring in both a diversity of industry logics and also a diversity of perspectives, whether it be social, cultural, economic, or political. And that is what really, really drew me to Gemic. Another term I also like to use is the unexpected intersections of people, places, and practices. And that’s where I feel we have a beautiful sort of symbiotic synthesis of all these different industries, cultures, people, places, and context of time coming together.”
Sofia: “I ended up in this industry through unexpected routes. I studied history as an undergraduate, and anthropology as a master’s. Both of those things were shaped by having a bicultural or multinational upbringing and being very aware that things that were taken for granted in one place are not natural, and are not even necessarily the best way to do things, which I think is easy to see when we’re socialized into only doing things in one way. Being in different countries and experiencing different ways made me really curious as to like all of the other potential ways that we could be living our lives, that we don’t know about and can’t even really imagine.”
Jehanne: “Living through and being able to witness these massive cultural changes and feeling at times that you are on the outside of a particular cultural reality or construct generates a curiosity about how the culture and societies and systems we live in come to be, and why they are the way they are. That resonates with me fully as being one of the drivers that led me into the consulting profession, especially the sort of human-centered work that we do at Gemic.”
What’s the value of having diverse perspectives, like ours, in this industry?
Sufyan: “We already live in a very diverse world. We just don’t live in a particularly inclusive world. I think part of our mission as an organization, that’s doing thinking for the future for positive impact, is to reflect the real diversity of the world so that businesses are better situated to make inclusive decisions and have inclusive strategies that end up reflecting the diverse society that we’re in today.”
Jana: “Our whole industry rests on the promise that we bring new perspectives, that we offer new innovative solutions. And so much of that promise is rooted in having an openness to different worldviews and different points of view. And I just wonder how much of that can be captured by a homogenous industry.”
Pierre: “If we think about diversity and inclusion, I think we must move towards a less siloed and more systemic view of what being diverse means, what being inclusive means. That is not just saying, okay, I have someone of a BIPOC ethnicity. Therefore I am inclusive. It is considering the interplay of socioeconomic background, geographic location, sexuality, ethnicity, and how all these interplay together to form an “identity” that needs to be interrogated. Yes, we need to have inclusion and accept all these different points of view as a first step. But I think the next step should be thinking of all these points of views not as isolated categories, but as very much integrated interrogations of where the world is now and where the world needs to be.”
Sofia: “I found it useful to conceptualize DEI as a sliding scale or different steps where there’s diversity, then inclusion, then equity as the ultimate goal. There’s this idea of an adverse incorporation, that you’re a part of it, but it’s not something that is benefiting you. Then there’s equity, which is about thinking about the various structural disadvantages that are in people’s background and seeking to elevate everyone relative to where they need that support. I think that’s the goal and frames a more considered way of talking about DEI.”
When it comes to business consulting, what are some of the barriers to entry for BIPOC candidates?
Sofia: “This is still an industry that really valorizes elite or prestigious educational backgrounds, which we know are harder to access for people who face structural oppression. It’s also an industry, and we’ve been having a conversation about this fairly recently, that really values excellence or brilliance, but these are not really measurable characteristics. This means thinking through how we can broaden our expectations around educational backgrounds, how we can make sure that we’re de-biasing our assessment processes and not selecting for people that are like us.”
Pierre: “We have to tackle often very rooted structures of inequality that prevent these diverse voices, not just being hired, but also for their perspectives and experiences and opinions to matter in a hierarchical or workplace culture.”
How does Gemic cultivate a sense of diversity and inclusion amongst the team?
Serena: “I always feel like there’s a space for everybody to speak up and contribute. And even if you’re there to just listen to what everybody else has to say, I think that’s a really unique opportunity where people can freely talk to each other and build on each other’s ideas.”
Jehanne: “The culture of conversation is one of these key pillars for driving diverse and inclusive workplaces even when these conversations are hard to have and navigate.”
Jana: “I come from academia, and sometimes, conversations are treated like a competitive sport. You know, like who speaks the most, who speaks the loudest. And I think coming to Gemic, where people have been kind of open to hearing out these lived experiences and that are very different to your own – I think that’s been the most welcoming aspect of my experience with Gemic thus far. If our task is to diversify our views and our frameworks and our actions, then the first starting point is also diversifying the voices that we listen to.”
What’s your advice for BIPOC professionals interested in consulting and in the work we do here at Gemic?
Pierre: “Don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself and (sometimes) laugh at the stereotypes that consulting brings. It’s the balance of being able to take yourself seriously, but also laugh at yourself and sharing that balance with others is especially important going into an industry as “serious” as consulting.”
Sufyan: “Be careful not to underestimate the importance of the atmosphere or environment that you choose to work in. Reflecting now and listening to all of our experiences of how we joined Gemic I’m reminded of how positive my initial impressions were of the Gems that I met and picking up on the organizational culture of curiosity and the flatness of hierarchy. Within the first couple of weeks of my internship, the sense that even as the most junior person in the room, my opinion and voice would be heard to the same degree as anyone else came through immediately.”
Jana: “Relax a little. I think this is especially important when you come from a lifelong outsider experience. You can relax when you enter a company like Gemic, where your “sense of otherness” is actually an asset and not something to be on guard about.”
Serena: “Coming into consulting, we might have the idea that, like a case interview, there’s a specific way that you should do it. Going through the Gemic interview process, I think it stands out in that we’re also looking for different things as well. Be yourself, add in your own unique perspective.”
Sofia: “Think about what matters to you and what you can contribute based on your experience as opposed to what you think consultants want you to say. Bringing what matters to you and your experiences makes it that much more meaningful and makes you stick out. It also means that if it doesn’t work out, at least you have the sense of integrity towards yourself.”