Allow your mind to wander over the workplaces of your past. Do you recall any promising employees who fell by the wayside? Remember the brilliant woman who wowed clients, but could no longer go on business trips after having children? Or the brilliant junior team member who quit because the long commute hindered her responsibilities in an intergenerational household? This article from executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles imagines a post-pandemic workplace that draws from a bigger pool of top talent because the post-pandemic world allows for more flexible ways of working.
- The professional services workforce is more diverse now than in the past, but most firms still have a long way to go.
- The pandemic disrupted long-standing working models; firms can leverage this disruption to attract and retain top talent.
- Reducing business travel, embracing remote mentoring programs, and committing to diversity and inclusion will allow firms to promote from a wider variety of employees.
The professional services workforce is more diverse now than in the past, but most firms still have a long way to go.
In 2020, non-white employees made up about 30% of the leadership teams of US professional services firms, and about 30% were women. The vast majority of lawyers are white (86%) and only 37% of lawyers are women.
“Professional services organizations in the United States have made significant commitments and are increasing their efforts to attract, develop, and retain a diverse workforce and, by extension, develop a diverse leadership pipeline.”
These figures represent an improvement over the past, but firms still have a long way to go in embracing diversity, especially when considering that people of color make up about 36% of the people with entry-level positions, but only 15% of the people who inhabit the C-suite are people of color. Women show a similar disparity; 47% of entry-level workers are women, but only 22% of people occupying C-suite positions are women. Women of color only make up 3% of those who dwell in the C-suite.
The pandemic disrupted long-standing working models; firms can leverage this disruption to attract and retain top talent.
Everyone knows what’s needed to climb the rungs at a professional service firm: a house near the office is an asset, as it facilitates long working hours. It also helps to have the ability to drop obligations at home and prioritize business travel, because the real work of building a career – personalized mentoring and talent development – often happens at client sites. But not every prospective or current employee can travel for work, or live near the office.
“Now, with old working norms out the window, firms are in a prime position to rethink their standard ways of working for the long term.”
The pandemic challenged “normal” working models. As the dust settles, could new models facilitate diversity in leadership? Which new ways of working can lift a greater variety of workers? Firms that rebuild with diversity and inclusion (D&I) in mind will draw from a larger pool of top talent, improving their competitive edge.
Reducing business travel, embracing remote mentoring programs, and committing to diversity and inclusion will allow firms to promote from a wider variety of employees.
Who gives up business travel when there are children to look after at home? When aging parents need extra assistance, who steps forward to help? Women tend to bear the brunt of caregiving obligations at home, and this can keep them from traveling to client sites. Forward-thinking firms might kick-start diversity in leadership by “reducing requirements to work at client locations.” The pandemic demonstrated that many tasks that used to necessitate travel can also be done remotely more efficiently and just as effectively. Firms can take a detailed inventory of which tasks should remain remote and which done in person, reducing travel requirements and opening their talent pool.
“Firm leaders will need to be intentional about implementing process and working-norm changes throughout their organizations.”
In the past, mentoring and team building happened naturally as an extension of in-person interactions. During the pandemic, senior employees found that much of the work of team building and mentoring can also happen through video or text chats. Remote mentorship isn’t just a pale substitute or inferior alternative to in-person mentorship – it breaks down silos and eliminates cliques formed through physical proximity. If a firm is willing to facilitate remote mentorship programs, junior employees will benefit from greater flexibility and more equal mentoring, and high-potential junior employees can also benefit from a variety of stretch assignments.
Finally, firms will benefit from intentionally and formally committing to diversity and inclusion. Writing D&I directly into the job descriptions, performance goals and compensation packages of organization leaders demonstrates a strong commitment to progress.
About the Authors
Gustavo Alba is the Heidrick & Struggles’ global managing partner of the Technology & Services Practice, and a partner in the Miami and New York offices. Rebecca Glick is a member of Heidrick Consulting and a principal in the Chicago office.