“Clients are more likely to buy from consulting firms with diverse partnership than those who don’t” according to new study.

According to a recent report by Sheffield Haworth and Source Global, clients are more likely to buy from consulting firms with diverse partnership than those who do not.

Partners of the Future: Leaders of Tomorrow, the second in a two-part report series which explores how consulting firms are rethinking what it means to be a partner—and how those partners can best be empowered to provide meaningful leadership at a time of profound change, focuses on the evolution of the partnership itself, and the ways in which the partners of tomorrow will look, act, and think differently from their predecessors.

One of the key findings of the paper shows that firms now recognise the moral and commercial value of prompting diversity at the partner level, with 92% of participants agreeing that clients are more likely to buy from firms that have diverse partnership. 

However, there is still a long way to go on this front, and few firms have tackled the systemic challenges that act to limit diversity in their ranks.  When asked which barriers to diversity they had seen evidence of within their own organisations, 60% acknowledged existence of bias against hiring female candidates and 51% said similarly for hiring people of colour.  Interestingly, one of the most perceived common reasons for lack of diversity within firms was not hiring bias, but a lack of diversity among the candidate slates being presented by executive search firms.

Moreover, firms are seeking to become more inclusive and to foster a more supportive culture to attract and retain talent, with 67% of participants saying that their firms have zeroed in on culture as being the key problem that must be solved to foster a diverse partnership.  The onus is firmly on existing partners to create an environment where new joiners from under-represented groups feel like they are able to thrive and advance within the firm.

Other key findings include:

  • The Big Four firms all have bonus gaps well in excess of their base pay gaps, strongly suggesting that women and people of colour are less well represented the higher up in the organisation you go.
    • In the US, of the 100 participating, only 33 were women and only 14 identified as non-white (people of colour make up 39% of the total US population).
  • Despite evidence to the contrary, most partners are very positive when it comes to self-assessing sector-diversity. Participants rated both the wider industry and their own firms highly across different axes of diversity, with the exception of LGBTQ representation.
  • When it comes to purpose Multi-service advisory firms seem to be leading the charge across the industry with 94% having a formalised purpose in place. Technology firms are lagging behind with only 78% having a formalised purpose.
  • The three skills that will become proportionately more important over the next five years for consulting leaders include creativity and the ability to innovate, knowledge of the firm and its services and technology knowledge and technical skills.
  • Most partners predict that over the next 10 years the balance within their partnerships will shift even further in favour of generalists as opposed to specialists.

The current pandemic will, in many ways, only serve to amplify the impact of these issues and the changes which need to be made—while also adding an additional layer of complexity to the challenge facing leaders in consulting firms.


The study was conducted in January 2020 of 100 partners in US Consulting firms, supported by in depth interviews with over 20 global industry experts.  All participants in this study were partners of firms with at least 500 employees.  67% of participants were male and 33% female.  Participants were split between strategy firms, multi-service advisory firms and technology firms, with two thirds having spent 6+ years at Partner level.


To download a copy of the report please visit www.sheffieldhaworth.com/downloads/


For any press enquiries please contact Fran Parsell – f.parsell@sheffieldhaworth.com