Diversity, equity, and inclusion

Interview about our firm’s DEI agenda 2030

Interview on diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Interview
  • October 10, 2023

Prof. Dr. Gülbahar Tezel and Andreas Pratz

“Everyone should have the same opportunities,” says Gülbahar Tezel, a partner at Strategy& Netherlands. “Young fathers now hope that their daughters, not only their sons, chase their professional dreams. Family members, friends, and colleagues with different gender identities and ethnic backgrounds should feel comfortable to be who they are, both at home and at work. And professionals don’t want all-male teams - because they know that diverse teams offer real benefits. So, of course, we have ethical reasons for prioritizing inclusivity in our culture. But we also have a real business logic for what we’re doing.”

As a Dutch woman with Turkish roots, a mother of two, and a self-described introvert, Gülbahar found that her road to making partner in a strategy consultancy wasn’t straightforward. But now that she is in a leadership position, she wants to use her influence to help remove obstacles for others. Gülbahar and Andreas Pratz, a partner at Strategy& Germany who has four children with his Spanish wife, along with their Strategy& teams across Europe, are committed to making the firm’s ambitious diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) targets a reality by 2030. Here, Gülbahar and Andreas share their own career journeys and discuss why they are so passionate about Strategy&’s innovative approach to DEI.

Because of the DEI programs you are implementing now, how will things be different at Strategy& in 2030?

Gülbahar: Our aim is that at least 30% of our Partner and Director team will be female and that 50% of our recent hires will come from non-business backgrounds. Everyone at the company, both consulting and non-consulting employees, will have a formal mentor, and 100% of all leaders will be regularly attending our flagship DEI trainings. We’ll be known for having outstanding benefits for parents. And we’ll be supporting clients on their own DEI journeys. To be frank, we’re not making it easy for ourselves with these ambitious targets. But we are confident we can achieve them, and we want to inspire others by being inclusive. That’s why we’ve committed to these objectives.

Andreas: Yes, that’s all very true. There’s obviously a strong ethical component to why we’re doing this - but there are also real business reasons behind all of our decisions. If we’re working on a healthcare project, for example, we need medical professionals on the team just as much as we need people with business backgrounds. We also need the people on our team to represent the population. That’s how we work as a diverse community to solve the most complex challenges. Diverse representation is rooted in business needs, and that’s important for people to understand.

Why are you personally passionate about DEI initiatives?

Gülbahar: As a women with Turkish roots, a mom, and an introvert, it has not always been easy for me, especially in the earlier years of my career. I know how it feels when you are not included. But, on a more positive note, when I was named partner, I realized that I have a unique opportunity to be a role model, not only as an economist, but also as a person who can share her story and hopefully use her own influence to make the road ahead easier for others.

Andreas: I think everybody on our team has a story that motivates them to do this work, and mine is rooted in my family. Both my wife and I work. Both sets of our parents worked. But it has been challenging, and we want our children to have an easier path. Since I’ve had the privilege of working in financial services in many different countries, I’ve seen places where leadership roles are more equitable - and I know we can do better here. We can enable people to live a life that combines personal and professional fulfillment. Also, I’ve always been passionate about transforming things - whether that’s by building businesses and working on growth strategies, or by transforming our culture through DEI. When I think about culture in the workplace, we simply can’t stand still. We have to evolve. Stagnation would be just about the worst thing I can imagine.

What are some lessons you have learned by doing this DEI work?

Andreas: You need to touch at least one-third of your workforce across all levels to create ambassadors for DEI and make an impact. And to do that, people in authority really need to champion the topic. That’s true with any transformation program, and especially true with DEI. In addition, consistency and continuity are more important than “the one big thing”. We’ve found that progress really comes through small steps along the way, with regular communication to everybody. That is one of the most important things to remember. Finally, you have to go deep. Instead of just changing some behaviors, you have to really confront the inner convictions that shape a culture to make a lasting change.

Gülbahar: Communicate a lot. Communicate often. You need to keep talking about why DEI matters, what support is out there, and how the new initiatives can help. You should not assume that people know. And be credible. Real change takes time, energy, and investment, so you really need leadership commitment.

What are some of the DEI initiatives you are launching now that make you most proud?

Andreas: To give a little background: clearly, our whole agenda isn’t new. There has been action happening in recruiting for years, for example, focused on gender representation. There also have been programs for people with non-business backgrounds. But in leadership positions, among people in authority, the share is not rapidly increasing. In our case, we continued to lose people in the middle ranks, often due to the hardships of managing frequent travel and long work hours with the needs of raising young children. So we realized we needed to prioritize programs that allow people to combine a very interesting job and a fulfilling family life - and to do that, we’ve made a number of changes.

First, we’ve made upgrades to the appraisal process. We have diversity champions in the appraisals who pay attention to language used to frame skills. We really want to drive out bias to make sure that the promotions are representing the gender and educational balance that the cohort has. We also want to really encourage people to call out things that are positive, like examples of inclusive behavior, and call out things that aren’t working. In other words, if you see something, say something. Just because something has been done a certain way before doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way.

Next, we created a leadership training program, with one and a half days off-site to do workshops with external coaches. This time allows us to go deep into our own behaviors and role-play, raising awareness of our biases, and creating ambassadors across the firm who are enabled to support our DEI initiatives because they have their own tool sets. We try to provide a forum for people to voice their concerns and questions.

And finally, we’ve substantially upgraded our support to parents in terms of flexibility and other benefits. We also give a career commitment, very formally, that we do not penalize people for working part-time. We promote people based on qualifications and potential, not based on a certain number of years to get to the next level or whether they’ve worked on a part-time basis for a few years.

That focus on family support is probably what makes me most proud at this stage, because it takes a big investment to do this, and it really shows how committed the firm is to DEI.

These three big changes are further nurtured by many smaller initiatives across recruiting and development efforts. For example, we have added more inclusive language related to our LGBTQIA+ communities in our milestone trainings and in our mentoring programs. We continue to encourage people to share their own experiences, and we are continually offering additional support as it is needed.

Gülbahar: Yes, I agree. We know that speaking to people with similar experiences helps - and that’s why we are supporting more networks. Additionally, we know how much of a difference mentoring and sponsorship make in people’s careers, so we are focused on those areas. In an apprentice model such as ours, mentors and sponsors are key. We want to further embed our DEI goals and principles in our mentoring and sponsorship practices. And by doing this, we are creating a greater awareness and understanding for our colleagues that DEI really matters.

Driving our 2030 D-E-I agenda

Key elements and indicators

  • 1
    At least 30% of our Partners and Directors will be women
  • 2
    At least 50% of our employees will have a non-business background
  • 3
    Tailor-made mentorship and sponsorship for each employee
  • 4
    We’ll provide outstanding benefits for parents with our Family and Career program
  • 5
    We’ll have 100% attendance at DEI training among Partners and Directors

Can you share an example of how you have seen your DEI work already making an impact?

Andreas: Definitely. I feel proud when I hear people sharing their own stories and experiences, and just making the space to listen to one another. When somebody explains to you how certain questions or remarks feel from their perspective, you start to think about your own past behavior, and you want to do better. That kind of sharing also creates deeper connections among people and deeper commitments to the firm.

Gülbahar: Yes. People often share very personal experiences during our morning DEI-sessions. When people are willing to be vulnerable, that shows they trust the firm. It takes courage to share your own personal stories. I don’t think people would open up if they felt that what we are doing was mere lip service. That is something we feel proud about. And so, for us, that’s an early measure of success, just that people feel comfortable enough to talk to one another. Our successes, by the way, are not happening because of Andreas and me; they are happening because a team of colleagues are putting great effort and personal time into this work. That’s one of the most inspiring elements of this journey. We are blessed with a great team.

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Prof. Dr. Gülbahar Tezel

Prof. Dr. Gülbahar Tezel

Partner, Strategy& Netherlands

Andreas Pratz

Andreas Pratz

Partner, Strategy& Germany