Women's History Month Q&A: Leadership, Confidence, Breaking Biases


We're proud to share the final blog in our a internal Q&A series in honor of Women's History Month. Throughout March, we be published candid conversations with women at Citisoft. Our goal was to explore issues unique to women in our industry and showcase the trajectories and experiences that have brought these women to their careers in consulting. For this final interview, we spoke with Citisoft Managing Director, Jenny Mynahan, and Citisoft Partner, Christine Knott.

Women are underrepresented in our industry, especially at a senior level—what do you think are contributing factors to this? Do you think things are changing?

Christine: I've been in the industry for over 30 years now and when I first started in financial services, women were a glaring minority. I think over the years, we’ve seen a shrinking gender gap—but it's been an uphill battle, particularly in the C-suite.

Early on in my career, I recall a time walking into a boardroom where I was the only woman and I happened to be wearing hot pink. I stood out like a sore thumb amid the 50 men in the room. But I'm happy to say more and more, I'm finding myself not being the only woman in the room and not being the only one wearing pink.

Jenny: When I started in the industry 25 years ago, I didn’t necessarily notice a huge gender gap. However, I was in operations at the time and while there wasn’t a 50/50 split, there were definitely women around me. When I moved into consulting, I started to gradually notice the lack of female representation more and more. Now, in a business development role, I find myself to be the only woman in the room most of the time…and sometimes the room will have upwards of 20 people. I’m very rarely presenting to a buyer that is a woman. I think things are changing but I’m not sure I will see a significant shrink in the gender gap before I retire. I think it is ok because representation is trending positively, and I think that’s enough. In my opinion, young people don’t make gendered assumptions about career paths as much as previous generations.

Balancing family life with consulting isn’t always easy and it’s not for everyone—what are some important things to know (pros and cons) for women interested in consulting?

Christine: If the job is the right job for you, you need to really consider it, but you have to consider it carefully. Whether you’re balancing children or other caregiving, it’s critical to come to an understanding of how your responsibilities will be balanced. For me, that came from a clear agreement with my husband. When my daughter was young, I spent ten years of my career working in another country or another city, and I did that every week. I can tell you that it wasn't always easy, but it afforded us opportunity.

My daughter is now grown and she recently told me that because of my choice to be true to myself and chase my own goals, she has no concerns about challenging herself and seeking out her ambitions. She's traveled extensively, she’s a leader in her own career, and she's never shied away from any challenge—in many ways, she got that from the balance we struck as a family.

I wasn’t the first woman in my family to set this kind of example—we learn from what we see modeled. My mom was an incredibly strong, driven person and she supported her family while my dad was in school. My grandmother was a suffragette. My older sisters are incredibly strong and successful in their own careers. They left an important legacy and that has carried through for generations of women in our family.

Jenny: Christine and I have discussed this in the past, we have similar background in family dynamics going back to when our kids were young. Like Christine, my husband and I came to an agreement before my oldest was born that I would return to work after maternity leave and he would stay at home, at least initially. To be honest, at the time, this was not because I had huge career aspirations. This was based more on the fact that with my job, we could live anywhere as long as I could get to an airport, and his job at the time did not afford the same flexibility. We really wanted to move to Maine to raise our family, and so we did.

I traveled a ton when my son was a baby. At one point, I was gone for weeks on an around-the-world trip shortly after I returned from maternity leave. At the time, I was the first consultant to ever return to Citisoft after maternity leave and I thought I had to hit the road immediately in order to commit fully to my career. Looking back, I do have some regrets here. Some of that is definitely because I didn’t spend as much time with my son when he was a baby but it’s also because I wasn’t brave enough to ask for a little more flexibility as a new mom that was just getting back into traveling. In hindsight, I know that I would have been supported by the leadership team.

I’m sure you’ve both had experiences where you are the only woman at the table for important meetings or decisions. For women who are early in their careers, this can be especially intimidating—any advice on how you have navigated feelings of self-consciousness or imposter syndrome?

Christine: I think the key is always being true to yourself and having the confidence that you're there for a reason. I know it's easy for me to say 30 years later, but when I was that 26-year-old wearing my hot pink suit, I walked in that room and I thought, “I'm here for a reason.” And sure, it's intimidating, but you should feel empowered to know that you're at the table for important meetings or important decisions. In the early days of your career, you may not be making those big decisions yet, but you're learning how to. You can have those feeling of self-consciousness but you also need to ask, “What am I learning from this?” Being in an uncomfortable situation is always a growth opportunity.

Jenny: I spent a lot of years worrying about speaking up because I was afraid of saying something that people would think is stupid. After years of worrying, one day I just decided to let it go and I speak up any time I think I have something meaningful to say. Sometimes I probably do say something stupid, but I don’t worry about peoples’ perceptions anymore. So, I guess the advice is: “don’t be afraid to speak up, you will probably be the only one that thinks you said something stupid.”

I’m going to quote the prolific Taylor Swift here because I think she nails the difficulty of being a woman in a position of power: “A man does something, it's strategic, a woman does the same, it's calculated. A man is allowed to react, a woman can only over-react.” Does this resonate with you? And if so, how can work toward flipping the script in our industry?

Jenny: This resonates with me 1000%. I try not to take unconscious bias towards woman personally, but it is certainly out there and can get to me. In my role, I don’t come across this as often but some examples that resonate with me most from the past are when someone calls a woman “emotional” when showing some passion. “Aggressive” is another one…most people wouldn’t call a man out for being aggressive.

Christine: It certainly would have resonated early on in my career, and every once in a while, it still happens. You need to be thoughtful about how you communicate but you can’t change yourself. The key is not to react to anybody else reacting to you. Honestly, most of the reactions to the way I emote or carry myself have come from other women. We have to support each other to break these biases. The last thing I ever want to hear and the last thing I'll ever say is something negative and non-constructive about another woman that I'm working with.

I have felt really supported by other women at Citisoft—especially both of you. Are there any women who made a difference in your career by supporting you or setting a great example?

Jenny: I think we both would agree that within Citisoft, women want to support other women. At all levels, we want to bring more women into the firm. This isn’t the case everywhere, obviously. Over the course of my career, I’ve experienced and witnessed adversity by women in power towards those that might threaten them (this has happened with men too, of course) but I have also had a few unofficial woman mentors in my careerpeople that I look to for advice and to bounce ideas off, and finally that I call a friend years later.

I was on a very large project years ago when I was a consultant. The team had mostly men but I was lucky to be part of a leadership team on that project that included other women from the client who were all extremely supportive of me and one another. Another example is with some of the vendors we work closely with. Through those vendor relationships, I met Diane McLoughlin who was instrumental in standing up a women’s forum at a previous firm she worked at. Though we’ve never worked closely, I know many women in the industry see her as a trailblazer and I feel like I could reach out to her for advice at any time.

Christine: I've been fortunate in my career to work with some pretty inspiring women. My best friend is a woman who has an incredible career and we've been supporting each other for 25 years. She also works in financial services, and she’s always been someone I’ve looked up to. I've also worked for and with incredible clients. One woman in particular was the CEO at a client and she would sometimes invite me into her office where we'd sit and chat about work. And then she'd say: “Have you seen my new boots?” She taught me that it's okay to be who we are. This is the advice I’ve heard and embraced throughout my career: you’ve got to be you.

Any parting advice for women who want to lead?

Christine: When you lead, lead with kindness, lead with thought, and lead with purpose. It's not about power. It's not about having something. It's about giving something.

Jenny: Don’t be afraid to show emotion. I feel that showing emotion in the right business circumstances shows people that you are authentic and people are more likely to trust you and want build a relationship with you, which is important in any career.

Thank you to Jenny, Christine, and all the women who participated in this series. If you're interested in learning more about careers at Citisoft, please view our Opportunities here.