Ana, I really enjoyed the way we met: you won an interview in the PWI Magazine at the last PWI event about HR & gender policies.
Director at a global consulting company
You are from Madrid, how did you get in touch with PWI Brussels? Why are you interested in professional women’s networks?
It was great to meet you all in Brussels. I got an invitation to join your meeting through one of my colleagues in Madrid. I believe one of your members sent it to our HR department and they forwarded it to us. The agenda of your meeting was interesting to both me and my colleague.
We are not aware of any woman’s network in Spain although in the past I was invited to a women network initiative within my company (launched by the US offices, our company in the US is very active in this kind of activities) and felt it was quite an interesting subject, being in a male environment at work. At the time I was surprised by the initiative and it was not really supported locally in Spain, I guess we were not prepared for it yet (before 2000).
I am quite interested in this kind of network as I understand relationships are important in life and in business, though I feel that like-minded people work well together and it doesn't matter if they are men or women.
I do not have many chances to be part of such a diverse network as PWI: it is good to have networks where you meet people who are different to you (your women’s network is an interesting example).
It is stimulating to find women with diverse nationalities and careers working in a number of industries, with different job positions and from various backgrounds who are willing to share experiences and know-how in facing the difficulties to reach and maintain management positions. More importantly, it is enriching to be able to share the actions or attitudes that make a difference on the way forward to an improved working environment as well as to a better society in general.
How much do gender issues matter in your company? Do you have equality policies and monitors in place?
From a formal point of view the company is well structured in that sense. Probably more than 50% of new employees are women. Flexible or reduced working schedules are approved for working mothers. On the other hand, the real fact is that there are probably less than 12% women in management positions, and I would say it is not related directly to the fact of being a mother.
Our work is based on people’s talent, capacity and dedication. The business model is based on an “up or out” philosophy which allows for creating pyramids with balanced teams and a competitive cost structure for our clients. It is very demanding job for anybody to develop a career in the consulting world.
The perception of gender issues depends on people and circumstances: each of us perceives things differently because we are all different and the situations we face depend both on what is happening and on how we do react to them. We have very successful women in our organization that have never perceived a gender issue and we have others that feel it is harder to be successful being a woman.
Despite not having a widespread public debate about gender issues from an institutional point of view, some people are not only aware of it, but they are also doing something about it. However, this is happening only on an individual basis and not within the framework of any internal initiative.
I believe we can improve the situation by, first of all, increasing consciousness of gender issues and talking about it openly. Then it will be possible to better identify the specific difficulties that women encounter and work to face them together.
This way, tough and lonely journeys can be avoided for some very talented women. Not being part of a natural male network is definitely not an advantage and it depends on each woman’s personality and attitude to overcome this initial difficulty or to get stuck.
For many years, I used to be a consultant with one of your competitors and at that time there were few of us – women - in management positions and everyone had to be available to travel and transfer in order to keep our job and to be considered for promotion.
What is the situation now in these regards in your company and in the consultancy sector?
How do you manage your work/life balance?
I believe it depends on the type of consultancy work you do and on the location of your clients. Until a certain stage, you need to be where your clients are on a daily basis, delivering services, and therefore you have to travel if the client is not in your home city. Some consultants ask to serve only local clients but sometimes it is difficult to match the company needs with the consultant preferences in terms of work location (also in terms of type of assignment; you need to be flexible in order to be a consultant).
We like and promote international projects (as most of our clients are multinational companies) and have many consultants willing to be assigned to them (others prefer not to travel). We need to serve our clients where it is required, of course. Change management is one of the key topics of all the transformation programs we run with clients and it requires dealing with people, wherever they work.
In the way we are structured, once you reach a commercial responsibility (higher levels in the consultancy career), you are mainly focusing on developing the market you belong to. Therefore you usually sell services in your home area or at a national level. Your involvement with the client does not require your presence on a daily basis; in addition to specific meetings and presentations, it is usually enough to visit them weekly. I would say that, as you advance in your career, travelling somehow diminishes or it does not take so many days in a week.
This has been my personal experience and, in this regard, I manage my work/life balance quite well; not travelling so much at the moment and having a flexible way of working with my clients and colleagues from different locations when necessary.
Why did you choose to become a consultant? By what or by whom were you inspired? What do you like best about being a consultant?
Since I started my studies I was willing to work internationally and experience being involved in different cultures and places: this took me to the consultancy world without me having planned to be a consultant at all. It happened by chance and I had to get familiar with technology which I did not enjoy when I started.
Now, after 20 years, I am, in my heart, a consultant. I like to be a consultant because this job provides me with the opportunity to experience the reality of different businesses from various points of view (strategic, operational and technological). As a consultant I need to be always learning something new in order to add value to my clients.
I like this job because it is very diverse and requires having an open mind. It also forces me to put a lot of energy into every project and as I invest more energy, I get it back as I am rewarded with professional satisfaction.
Have you travelled widely and moved often for your career? How did you find working in other countries?
I travelled quite a bit, especially in the early years (not so much anymore). I found it a very rewarding experience that I always looked forward to and I enjoyed living and working in different cultural environments.
I believe we get to know ourselves better when we have the chance to be on our own, out of the environment where we were brought up; with other people, experiencing other ways of thinking and acting and working, where there is other ways of making business. It is really rewarding for me to observe all the different ways of doing things and to recognize at that point what is really the way I do things or the way I look at things, then I am conscious and I can change or evolve towards the ways I like the best.
What would be your recommendation to a young woman wanting to pursue a career in a big multinational consultancy corporation?
I would not give special advice to young women; the following is valid for men and women, for everybody. I would advise people not to think so much about their career but to enjoy every project and to focus on taking the best from every experience, even from the hardest ones. I believe that focusing on your career more than on the content of what you are doing is not so rewarding and it might take you in the wrong direction.
I would only encourage women not to think that they need to change the consultancy career for something else if they want to build a family. I believe that should be compatible, if they like this job, they should stay with it.
Ana, you are a Director: how would you define “leadership”? How do consultant leaders differ – if indeed they do differ – from the leaders in other industries?
Do you believe there are different traits in female vs. male leadership?
I would define leadership as <<the capacity to show the way forward, to inspire others by encouraging them to appreciate and increase their strengths and to overcome their weaknesses>>.
In this sense I do not find a difference in the leadership concept from one industry to another. In our industry it is important to focus on people, to fully understand the client needs and to manage your time and effort very precisely to reach the established goals.
I believe the kind of leadership that we might develop depends on our character and our way of understanding people’s interactions, life and society: it does not depend on gender.
In your opinion, what self-improvements should women make in order to climb up in their organisation or to become more successful in their profession?
Probably self-confidence is one of the key aspects we all need to improve in order to be more successful from a career point of view (I mean in order to reach higher positions). Sometimes being in a world that has been traditionally dominated by men, women might feel uncomfortable, while some others take it as a challenge and feel very self-confident.
It is important to get rid of limiting beliefs of having to do it better or prove more only because we are women. These limiting beliefs make many women dismiss the idea of pursuing promotion.
Ana, you are interested in dance and in philosophy: please tell us more about your passions.
I believe the main questions in life are around things which are very basic but difficult to answer, for instance: what are we here for? How should we act? What is good or bad?
I like to get back to those main questions in order to understand the magnitude of the world and therefore take my personal position. I am learning many things from reading philosophy, some of the most important ones include:
- Listening to others
- Getting to know myself and my way of interacting with others
- Understanding others
My other passion is dance: I like Spanish dance and classical dance (ballet). I practiced it for a long time when I was young and I keep on attending classes on the weekends. It is not only a sporty healthy activity, but it is also a way of expressing yourself, of being very much linked to music and therefore a way of including art as an essential part in my life.
What can men learn from women in business, profession and life?
I guess many things. I believe we can all learn a lot from each other (men and women). I have great colleagues in my team both men and women.
From the women I have in my team I would highlight the capacity to organize, the commitment and the good atmosphere they create around them, dealing both with clients and with colleagues and managing teams. Of course, all qualities depend more on people than on gender, but these are the ones that I recognize better in the women I know (although many men are also good in them, of course).
Ana, what are the dreams that have not come true yet in your life? Do you have “a dream” you would like to share?
Every day there is a new little dream to reach like … going for lunch with a valued colleague from the old times, reading and understanding a new philosopher, celebrating a family birthday in special circumstances, working with new people for a new project, swimming in the sea at lunch time during a meeting in a coast location … I believe in small everyday things that make you happy and that build your life.
When I am older and I retire from consultancy, I would like to work as a coach (for the moment I am doing it from time to time in order to train myself).
Ana Otero was born in Spain. She is an economist. Having worked and lived in different countries (Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Finland, the UK) she developed her career in consultancy participating in numerous transformation programs at multinational and big national companies.
With a growing interest for personal development she became an executive coach in 2012. She is also interested in dance and in philosophy.
Ana Otero García-Castrillón
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of her company, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.