How FTI Consulting's Women's Initiative (FTI WIN) is empowering women in consulting
Read our in-depth interview with Stephanie Ellis, who leads FTI Consulting’s Women’s Initiative (FTI WIN) in London – and find out what life could be like as a female graduate at FTI Consulting.
FTI WIN is an internal network focused on empowering women and equality and it was established back in 2013. The network provides career training, professional development, mentorship, networking and community outreach opportunities to its members.
From speaking to Stephanie Ellis, a managing director who heads up the FTI WIN network in London , it’s clear that the past eight years have met with great success, and that female graduates who join FTI WIN have a whole host of opportunities waiting for them. After all, Consulting Magazine touted two of FTI Consulting’s female employees as a ‘Rising Star in Communications’ and ‘Woman Leader in Technology’ in 2020.
Hi Stephanie. Could you tell us more about what FTI WIN is?
I would describe FTI WIN as a belief, statement and demonstrable commitment from the firm to encourage and empower women in their careers at FTI Consulting – from attracting and hiring female talent, through to retaining, developing, supporting and promoting female professionals.
We have offices all over the world, including Paris, Singapore, Los Angeles and Melbourne, so our FTI WIN network is active globally. Then, at a local level, each office has an FTI WIN chapter as different offices have different cultures, expectations and make-ups, so local chapters can focus on more individual needs. I first got involved at the New York office, transferred to London five years later and I now lead the London chapter of FTI WIN.
Part of what we do is internal marketing for ourselves. We showcase female talent and make it visible in ways that it might not have been previously. We engage our male colleagues, encourage them to be allies and have some important, difficult conversations. FTI WIN is also a safe space to discuss issues that we’d like fellow women’s opinions on, whether that’s questions about raises, bonuses and promotions or work/life balance struggles.
On top of this, we provide FTI WIN-specific events, networking and training, as well as encouraging our members to take up what FTI Consulting more broadly offers. A lot of what we do is give members the autonomy to grow themselves professionally and personally. Being a part of WIN has opened doors, given me visibility with global senior leadership and introduced me to women across the firm who I know I can reach out to for help and vice versa.
What sorts of events and training have you run recently?
One of the things we introduced at FTI Consulting is a monthly speaker series. Alison Lapper MBE, a disability advocate and artist, delivered a fantastic talk on her life, being visibly different, being a woman, being in the art world and being a mother. Most recently, Baroness Karren Brady spoke to us about how she started her career in football, how she balances work and life and what she thinks we should be doing to address the issue of violence against women.
This isn’t limited to women. We invited David Olusoga, a prominent historian and broadcaster, to talk to us in October for Black British history month. Taking a step back, it’s important to talk about diversity from an intersectional perspective. There are so many women at FTI Consulting so developing FTI WIN as a really strong network makes a lot of sense – but that doesn’t mean we haven’t also been evaluating our commitment to other types of diversity, including race, sexual orientation, disability and socio-economic background. And I love being somebody who other, newer networks can come to for help and advice.
What’s been really fantastic for FTI WIN during the coronavirus pandemic is that we’ve been able to leverage the fact that it doesn’t matter where you’re based. We’ve run big, global training sessions. A career coach and former ballet dancer with the Metropolitan Opera in New York ran one on how you can be compelling and have presence in video calls. Previously, this might have been a limited in-person event but virtually we were able to have 500 women from around the world attend. For International Women’s Day, we held a series of events that involved colleagues in offices across EMEA.
At a local level in London, one of our female board members delivered training on different personality types in the workforce and one of our senior advisers, a former broadcast journalist at the BBC, provides a lot of training around being an effective presenter. We’ve also run financial literacy training for more junior colleagues on pensions, pay cheques and all of the things you don’t necessarily learn until you’re dropped into a new job.
And is mentoring a big part of FTI WIN?
Mentorship is really important. A mentor is someone you can go to with questions, whether that’s about your professional development, how to deal with a tricky situation or how to do something new. FTI Consulting, as a whole, has various mentoring programmes and if somebody in the FTI WIN network wants a mentor we will help them find somebody who is appropriate.
FTI WIN can also help its members to identify somebody who might become their sponsor, which is in line with mentorship, but is a bit different. A sponsor’s focus is on your career development and progression throughout the firm. They are usually somebody quite senior at FTI Consulting who has political capital, is good at their job and is well respected in the firm. They’ll be a voice that puts your name forward for new projects and promotion pipelines.
What about FTI WIN are you most proud of?
I’m proud of our growing membership – we’re a large group in London now. I get emails every couple of weeks from people who want to get involved and that is just so exciting and so refreshing.
I’m also proud of the network’s ability to be a part of and kickstart conversations and initiatives that matter to women at FTI Consulting. We’ve been instrumental in pushing forward changes to HR policies, such as parental leave. We were already having conversations around flexible working, work/life balance, well-being and mental health, but these discussions have been supercharged by the pandemic, which can only be beneficial for everybody.
We support the firm around its gender pay gap disclosure and we play a really valuable liaison role between our members and senior leadership, voicing their concerns and questions. A few years ago, International Women’s Day wasn’t a focus in London. Now we have conversations about what it means and why it’s important and we plan an event. It feels like we have a lot of really good momentum.
Do you have any careers advice for female students and graduates?
My three tips, which I 100% wish I’d known when I was younger, would be:
- Raise your hand and get involved with things that are important to you, above and beyond what you do for clients. At FTI Consulting, that could be with FTI WIN, broader diversity or ESG (environmental, social and governance), sustainability or other cross-segment or cross-office initiatives.
- Figure out how to be a problem solver. When you come in and don’t know a huge amount, there are going to be lots of questions, and you’re encouraged to ask them. As you grow into the role, though, you want to be as helpful as you can to the team – and already having solutions to the problems you’re going to flag up is a big part of that.
- Learn the skill of managing upwards. Who are the people you report to on a team? And how can you make their lives easier and make them the smartest, most prepared people in the room? That’s only going to make us all look better and you’ll learn while you do it.
And, finally, why would you recommend FTI Consulting as an employer for women?
It’s a great place to work, regardless of who you are. We are a global advisory firm, we have quality clients and we get really interesting assignments. What we do is critical to our clients and those clients are critical to the way the world works. One of the things that I still get a thrill out of is working on a project, waking up the next morning and seeing the fruits of that being reported in the Financial Times.
If you are a woman interested in working at FTI Consulting, you should know that there is a commitment to FTI WIN from the top down. Just knowing that FTI WIN exists is a good shorthand for the type of experience that you’ll have when you join the firm. If you want a mentor, you’ll get one. You’ll be given the training and development you need to succeed. You’ll be empowered to be very good at what you do – and to get involved with side projects that are important to you.
The goal that I have for the next couple of years at FTI Consulting is that young women who join the firm can look to a couple of levels above and see a lot of different examples of female leadership that they can follow. I think that’s critical. I want them to come in and see that there is a path for them based on who they are, their skills set and the area they are involved in. That’s the direction we’re heading in and it’s only going to get more promising.
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