This Q&A with our head of HR Sally Pritchard and managing director Tim Orton, highlights why Nous is ahead of the curve when it comes to gender equality in consulting.
Gender equality is a widely recognised challenge for professional services firms. Find out what Nous is doing differently that has helped us achieve a consistently strong gender balance across all levels throughout our 20 year history.
How has Nous overcome the challenges often associated with gender equality in the consulting industry?
TO: Creating a diverse and balanced workforce has been ingrained in Nous’ culture and values since we founded the business 20 years ago. So we haven’t had to work to overcome any specific gender equality challenges. As we’ve grown, our gender ratio has stayed close to even and we keep an eye on HR and salary data to ensure a skew doesn’t emerge in either direction.
SP: We have a number of practices as well as some formal policies in place to ensure that all employees are given equal footing and that diversity remains a core part of who we are as an organisation.
Our parental leave policy is gender neutral; meaning that both mothers and fathers, whether primary or secondary carer, are entitled to the same leave conditions.
We also fully support and encourage flexible work arrangements for all employees, no matter what their life stage.
Many consulting firms struggle to maintain gender balance particularly at the most senior levels, how is Nous different?
TO: To perpetuate gender equality in our business, we strive to maintain an even spread of women and men at senior levels, and more generally within each band. Over our history, we have often had more female Principal’s than male. Our current Principal ratio is 19:15, so we are achieving our goal, and have a significantly higher percentage of female leaders than many of our competitors.
I think we’re successful at this at least in part because of the flexible work arrangements we have in place, which I believe allow our female (and male) staff to truly engage in their personal commitments, without having to forfeit their career aspirations.
I had a young family when I started Nous, and wanted to be a present father for my kids. So if I wanted to work flexibly; everyone else had to have the option of working flexibly too.
SP: The great thing about Nous’ flexible work arrangements is that they aren’t just confined to the parents of young children. Younger staff can (any staff really) can take can take advantage of career breaks to study, backpack or have an adventure and those approaching the end of their careers and wanting to scale back can go part-time. This gives people the opportunity to pursue their own choices in life without having to give up their career.
Flexibility is so much a part of the spirit of the Nous that no one ever questions it – they just concentrate on making it work.
How do you ensure that flexible work arrangements are working for the business, and are not causing inefficiencies?
TO: Over and above the other benefits, Nous provides flexibility for business reasons – because we genuinely believe that it results in us having better people and getting better business results. I can’t present incontrovertible evidence that it impacts our bottom line, but we’re growing substantially faster than the industry as a whole and our client satisfaction is higher than the industry average. Our margins are around industry average, and we were voted one of Australia’s and Asia’s top five workplaces in the Great Places to Work Awards in 2015 and 2016, respectively. So from our perspective it is working well.
SP: Flexible work arrangements work at Nous because of our people and our culture.
We hire people from a diverse array of backgrounds, but who all have a few things in common – they love what they do; they are inherently high achievers; and they gain immense enjoyment and satisfaction from working on interesting challenges, with smart, like-minded colleagues.
Nous runs on a foundation of trust, self-management and high performance and we believe that if you create the right conditions for people to flourish, they will do so. We also actively monitor our part-time arrangements to ensure that part-time employees are supported to succeed, while contributing to business outcomes.
Tim, as the managing director, what do you see as being the most significant influence on Nous’ success at gender equality?
TO: I think most importantly, many of our leaders are strong, inspiring women who have helped us, as an organisation, to foster a culture of mentoring across the board. They, along with the types of male leaders we have at Nous, have helped Nous grow into an organisation that genuinely lacks gender bias. This means that we don’t need to think too much about inequality – which is fantastic – but maintaining that will always be a priority.