Women in Leadership Profiles

Beth Bovis – A.T. Kearney: Breaking the Glass Ceiling (While Working Part-Time)

Beth Bovis can live anywhere she wants to. That’s one of the perks of working at global consulting firm A.T. Kearney, and a key component in the carefully-crafted work/life balance that Beth has perfected over the years.

You’re surprised to hear the words “consulting” and “work/life balance” in the same sentence? Consulting is commonly considered a way to rack up the frequent flyer miles and see the world, at some cost to domestic stability. But Beth is eager to counter that stereotype.

“I really think that women shouldn’t avoid consulting because they think it’s not an environment conducive to finding a committed partner and starting a family,” she counsels. “People rule it out too early. And the truth is, you can move anywhere and do this job. You can do what is best for you and your family, as long as you can get to the airport.”

She was drawn to consulting straight out of her undergraduate career studying economics and finance at the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. As she ascended in her career, she asked herself if she would ever want to switch places with one of the executives at one of her client firms, and she was surprised to find that the answer was no.

“As soon as a project or an organization is up and running, I’m ready to move on to the next thing,” she says. “That’s why I’m destined to be a consultant.” She also loves that, although consultants work hard, sometimes logging long hours and lots of time on the road, the job comes with short-term flexibility.

As she puts it, “Projects end. You can really take a break at those times. You can take a vacation without work hanging over your head.”  The pace and rhythm of consulting allows valuable time to recharge before moving on to the next challenge, and the excitement of not knowing what comes next.

Of course, Beth admits she didn’t just luck into workplace flexibility. She chose A.T. Kearney because it was a firm where her talents fit the business, and where she could have it her way. Today, she is a partner in the firm, and the global head of its Organization and Transformation Practice. That means that she and her team might go into a company experiencing a major event, like an acquisition or a total reorganization, and work out the operating model and guide the organization through thorough and wide-reaching change.

Beth rose to the top of her profession while working part-time. When her two children were young, she worked 60% FTE. As they got a little bit older, she went to 80% FTE. Right now, she takes two half-days off per week to spend with her kids.

“People told me I was crazy and that I was jeopardizing my chance to make partner by working part-time,” she recalls. “But it worked for me. I built up discipline around it and learned to manage my work accordingly.”

She adds that she was never afraid to assert herself as an advocate for what she needed to succeed and be happy. “I never thought, everyone else is working on the weekends, so I must do that too. I found a way to advocate for my career within my own personal style. I think most women who are successful find a way to do that.”

So how might you know if a career in consulting is right for you? Beth has a few quick tests that might point the way.

“If you go into a store where there’s a really long line and you start thinking about how the store could get people through the line faster, or you’re eating in a restaurant and you start thinking about how the operation could run more smoothly, chances are you’ll enjoy consulting. If, when you go to a new city, you enjoy finding adventures off the beaten path, you’ll like the kind of travel we do.

“If you can find an interesting tavern in a new place and strike up a conversation with someone, you’ll probably like the dynamic energy of consulting. And if you like to do different things day-to-day, this career can work really well for you. I don’t know where I’m going to be on Tuesday, and that won’t bother me—I can wait until Monday night, and then be ready for whatever lies ahead.”

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