How Women at Oliver Wyman promotes gender diversity in the workplace

26 August 2020 6 min. read

In recent years, many companies have come under scrutiny regarding their gender representation in the workplace. In pursuit of achieving a gender-balanced workforce, Oliver Wyman established its Employee Resource Group ‘Women at Oliver Wyman’.

The group has been set up with the objective of promoting, supporting and empowering gender diversity at Oliver Wyman. To find out more about the network, spoke with Denise van Wijk, who recently was named Global Lead of Women at Oliver Wyman (WOW).

Prior to joining Oliver Wyman in Amsterdam in 2017, Denise van Wijk studied Law at the City Law School, University of London, before earning a Master’s in the Political Economy of Europe at the London School of Economics and Political Science. During her university years, van Wijk engaged in a series of hobbies which she identifies as rather ‘male-dominated’, including several strategic card games.

These experiences led her to take a special interest in the topic of gender representation and diversity. Upon joining Oliver Wyman, van Wijk quickly experienced that the firm gave her a chance to continue her interests in gender diversity both within the company, and among its clients, by joining its Women at Oliver Wyman network.

Denise van Wijk, Global Lead Women at Oliver Wyman

Women at Oliver Wyman’s goals

The WOW network currently counts 30 offices with an active WOW presence and hundreds of members globally. This network of colleagues of all genders works together “to enable a culture where we view gender diversity as both an asset and a competitive advantage.” “WOW’s key focus is to promote the interests of women at Oliver Wyman,” van Wijk explained.

“It’s interesting to see how our definition of success changes over time. Initially, our focal point aimed at getting more women into consulting, observing that strategy consulting is traditionally a male-dominated industry. We ensured awareness of implicit biases in our recruitment process and focused on appealing to female candidates.” Aided by WOW’s contributions, Oliver Wyman has been able to ensure a gender diverse entry level cohort with “most of our offices now reporting a 50:50 intake of women and men.”

“Although Oliver Wyman is still working towards meetings its aspirations with regards to equal gender representation, including non-binary individuals, the success around entry level recruitment allowed WOW to broaden its focus. Now it also looks at female retention and more broadly at empowering women in the workplace and society as a whole,” said van Wijk.

“The attrition levels among women have historically been higher than those of men, leading to underrepresentation of women at more senior levels in the organisation. We have aspired to improve female retention by showcasing examples of women balancing work with family life or of women temporarily pursuing alternative interests. Colleagues can do this through one of the many company perks such as taking a leave of absence, by going on an externship through which they can temporarily work at a different company or by joining our Nonprofit Fellowship program and putting their business skills to work at a nonprofit organisation.”

Another angle is fostering an environment in which women can thrive. “We need to ensure women are equipped and enabled to pursue a successful career at Oliver Wyman. The colleagues we hire today are expected to become the partners of tomorrow. In pursuit of this, it is paramount we address potential biases among male colleagues as they still make up the largest share of our workforce.”

“WOW helps Oliver Wyman foster an environment and culture where women can thrive.”

Van Wijk added. “We organise various events, trainings and mentoring sessions to ensure not only women but also men see what is required to foster such an environment, and act on that. Men are typically less aware of their possible biases. Under WOW’s leadership we have also launched Men4Change, an initiative that aims to actively engage men to encourage awareness, dialogue, and action to decrease inequality in our firm and society. To drive change and foster a culture of equality both genders need to work hand in hand.”

A good example of one of WOW’s recent initiatives is a series of five webinars. The shift towards remote working under Covid-19 opened up the opportunity to organise global virtual events. “The webinar series enabled female leaders from across the firm to share their experiences about among others, fostering an environment in which women can thrive, self-development, and mentorship and coaching. It was a great success for both empowering women and for creating awareness among men.”

Denise’s experiences

When the role to become WOW’s global lead presented itself, van Wijk identified it as an opportunity to diversify Oliver Wyman’s international leadership. Previously, she said, the network’s global leadership team had been concentrated in New York (where the consultancy is headquartered) and London (the firm’s largest office in Europe).

She recognised it as an important opportunity to share her experiences being based out of a smaller office where colleagues have more limited exposure to role models. “Visibility into role models, especially those whom colleagues can identify with, is crucial for fostering career ambition and retention,” van Wijk noted.

In terms of her own experiences, van Wijk stated that joining OW and WOW helped her become more confident and assertive. Besides that, it has given her the opportunity to apply her leadership, management and communication skills early on in her career. This has been an accelerator for her day job as a consultant. Commonly stated women will only take on a new opportunity or apply for a new role when they are 100% qualified, unlike many male colleagues who typically take greater risks. For her, WOW helped her awareness around recognising such behaviours and acting on it.

The client side

WOW’s influence expands beyond internal life at Oliver Wyman. Van Wijk explained, “We aim to empower women in the workplace both in an Oliver Wyman office, but also when working with clients. We spend most of our time at the client site, so our role and focus doesn’t stop when we leave the Oliver Wyman building.”

“When advising senior clients, it’s not uncommon for our female colleagues to be the only woman in the room. Internally, we set clear expectations that women and men are equal and would therefore expect the team to interfere in case we observe any behavior that does not align with our vision.”

“In addition, we also host WOW events together with clients to further female empowerment and develop content to stimulate the debate around diversity topics. Another example highlighting our ambition to expand our reach beyond Oliver Wyman is our recent Women In Financial Services report. This report showed that there is a significant revenue opportunity from better serving women as customers in the financial industry.”

Further reading: Financial services could unlock $700 billion by better serving women.