Denise van Wijk is an Associate at Oliver Wyman and the global lead of Women at Oliver Wyman (WOW). WOW is a network that promotes, supports and empowers gender diversity at Oliver Wyman and aims to foster an environment in which women can thrive. Recently, Denise and her team organized a global webinar series that featured women in leadership positions from across the globe to showcase role models within the firm.
NW: For those who may not know you, how would you describe yourself? What is your story?
DVW: I am originally Dutch, but I grew up in Belgium and the UK. I studied Law at City Law School, University of London and afterwards obtained a Master’s degree in Political Economy of Europe at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Three years ago, I joined Oliver Wyman Amsterdam. As an Associate in our Retail and Consumer Goods practice, I typically support consumer goods companies with their most complex business challenges.
NW: How did you come across your current job? Especially since you did not come from a business background.
DVW: I started studying Law but did not really like the aspect of learning cases and statutes. However, I did like that it focused on problem-solving and on creative thinking. During my Master’s degree, I was put in touch with the team that was setting up The Young Consultant in London. I enjoyed the work we did while solving a few pro-bono cases, so that sparked my interest in the area of consulting. Afterwards, I started looking into consulting jobs, and I’m still enjoying it.
NW: What is it like to be a consultant at Oliver Wyman? Was it different from your experience at The Young Consultant, or did you come into the world with a firm grasp of what it would entail?
DVW: I think one is never prepared! However, joining The Young Consultant gave me an advantage because I joined Oliver Wyman with a basic understanding of what consulting entails – it was no longer an abstract term. Although The Young Consultant gave me a good foundation, the projects at Oliver Wyman are of a very different nature. They are more pressing and much more complex. The key differences are the tools available at Oliver Wyman, the worldwide network and the continuous support. That said, I do think that it is good for students to join student consultancies, also to broaden your network! It’s a great starting point.
NW: You have previously mentioned, consulting is a fascinating job. Do you have a typical day to day routine, or does every day look different?
DVW: No day is the same. It really depends on the type of project, the sector and the team you work with. Regardless, there are roughly three core types of activities a consultant does, and the share of that depends on where you sit in your career.
Insight gathering: this can entail data gathering, interviewing the client, or expert/desk research
Analyses: this ensures one can draw findings from the insights received – analyses can be both quantitative or qualitative in nature
Project management: this ensures that the project team and the client are happy and the project is delivered on time (and within budget)
NW: Do you invest time in certain activities to improve your skills in those areas?
DVW: The type of skills I invested in depended on where I was in my career. I encountered different phases which saw my focus around self-development shift. While I was at university, I focused on building my network – both professionally, to get a job, but also personally, so that I have a tight-knit group of friends to rely on. Then, starting my job, I focused on the core skills that are important in consulting. Due to my background, I lacked quantitative skills, so the first year I focused on improving in this area. More recently, as I started managing teams and take on more leadership positions, I have started to focus on further developing soft skills which includes motivating a team, how to effectively communicate with and motivate people from diverse backgrounds and with different characters.
NW: One of your leadership roles is being the global lead for Women at Oliver Wyman or WOW. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
DVW: We love acronyms, as you can tell! WOW is a network that promotes gender diversity in the workplace, we do that by ensuring we recruit women in entry and senior-level positions but also focus on retention and fostering an environment in which women can thrive. The network ensures we can give women the right support and guidance to succeed in their careers. We do not only believe in having a gender balance because it’s the right thing to do, which it is of course, but more importantly because we believe we can deliver better work in diverse teams.
NW: What is some of the work you do for WOW?
DVW: The activities conducted by WOW differ across geographies. Speaking about the Netherlands, in the beginning, we focused our efforts on recruitment. Now that we see that that is going in the right direction, we have expanded our focus to ensure retention and fostering an inclusive environment. A good example of fostering an environment in which women can thrive is a global webinar series that we organized, where we invited senior women from across the firm to cover topics such as work-life balance, mentorship and self-development. I believe we must continue to raise awareness around women in consulting as there are still (unconscious) behaviours that negatively impact women and other minority groups.
NW: Do you have any advice to deal with things like that?
DVW: This is one of the more difficult aspects as the behaviours vary widely. Women often get asked to do project admin and organize team dinners – on one hand you do not want to come across as lazy – but if you are always asked to organise the team dinners, you must speak up. There are obviously also more serious situations which negatively affect women and minority groups alike – through trainings and raising awareness, WOW aims to prepare colleagues on how to deal with these type of challenges.
NW: Are there any podcasts or books you recommend?
DVW: I enjoy listening to podcasts. Every morning I listen to The Intelligence to understand which current events are going on and to get a deeper understanding of the world. I am also a fan of Michelle Obama’s podcast. Though I am not the type to read a book a week, I have recently finished Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado-Perez. It shows the importance of female representation in shaping our world (ranging from policies to design) and the importance of a balanced team at work. Reading Caroline’s books makes it clear that there are a lot of things in this world that are made for men – by increasing the share of women in the workforce, we can ensure the world works better for women.
NW: It seems that Oliver Wyman is a great place to work for. Do you have any advice for any students graduating and wanting to pick a company?
DVW: I would say go to a lot of coffee chats, recruitment events, and whatever else is being organized. I personally based my decision on company fit. The key thing that differentiates consultancy firms are the people, so I would recommend picking a company where you feel a strong connection. Also, feel free to ask questions and share the causes you feel strongly about, look for the company’s stance on those so you can make sure they are aligned.
You can read more about Oliver Wyman’s social initiatives on their website.
*Transcript has been modified for length and clarity