At SXSW 2023, advancing the future of sustainability, workplace inclusion, and more

Nine McKinsey colleagues spoke at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW), the annual tech, media, and culture showcase in Austin, Texas. “It was a terrific opportunity to welcome clients, alumni, and guests to our new office in the heart of Austin, home to nearly 200 colleagues,” says Steven Smith, a member of the Austin leadership team. Read on for highlights from their talks, which touched on sustainability, inclusion, and much more.

A hunger for alternative proteins

Jordan Bar Am, a one-time schoolteacher in Morocco and fair-trade banana importer, now leads our work in alternative proteins. He took part in a SXSW panel with food-industry leaders who shared some of their newest innovations, such as Air Protein’s fermentation process, which creates meat out of air, water, and energy. Think: no agriculture or supply chain. And Believer Meats, which is building the first full-scale facility for producing cultivated lamb meat—without a single animal in sight.

Jordan speaking on stage
Jordan Bar Am, a McKinsey partner
Jordan speaking on stage

Alternative proteins are a fast-growing food category and a way to ease stress and volatility in food supply due to climate change.

“I believe we are going to see more foods that are hybrids of these different technologies, rather than relying on a particular one,” says Jordan. Developing such complex products will require building stronger ecosystems, which is something McKinsey is uniquely suited to help do. “We work with many different potential partners,” he explains. “Investors seeking to deploy capital behind sustainable technologies; consumer companies, retailers and restaurants looking for ways to decarbonize; biochemical companies who have a unique innovation to contribute.”

But food isn’t like other commodities; it has deep cultural and emotional aspects, and has to taste, smell, feel, and look good. All panelists agreed they had very demanding test markets to satisfy— starting with their households.

Developing a trans-inclusive workplace

Sarah presenting on stage
From left on stage, Sarah Greenberg, a McKinsey associate partner, and participating by Zoom, Dani D'Amico, a McKinsey partner
Sarah presenting on stage

“It’s a pretty lonely experience,” says Dani D’Amico, a McKinsey partner describing life as a transgender individual in the workplace. “The reaction I get on a daily basis is ‘I’ve never met a transgender person before.’”

Dani, along with Sarah Greenberg, an associate partner, led an SXSW session on building trans-inclusive workplaces. Together, they answered questions from the group around some of the first, concrete steps organizations can take in order to get there.

Efforts at McKinsey include initiatives such as pronouns campaigns and the use of preferred name versus a legal name in internal systems. “This affects every system that a person interacts with,” points out Sarah. “Our email, performance management system, badges in buildings. It’s a small thing that can really make a difference in the feeling of safety and belonging.”

Formula 1 and the acceleration of mobility

This November, Las Vegas hosts its first F1 Grand Prix in almost 40 years, with a brand-new circuit running around its famed strip. The city is expecting to welcome 300,000 fans and generate $1 billion in revenue from the event.

In one panel, F1 leaders and McKinsey’s Philipp Kampshoff, a senior partner and co-founder of our Center for Future Mobility, and Abby Rakshit, mobility expert and co-host of the Racing Forces podcast, talked about how this premier sport is shaping the mobility industry in general.

“Technologies such as KERS, or kinetic energy recovery system, which recoups energy while braking a car, started in racing and is now standard in hybrid and electric cars,” explained Philipp.

Meet the newest sailor on the New Zealand Americas Cup team: McKinseys AI bot

Flying across the sea, propelled by AI

To help Emirates Team New Zealand successfully defend their America’s Cup title, we created an AI bot.

F1 teams are using AI and machine learning for process innovation. From race to race, engineers tweak a digital-twin version of a car to improve say, aerodynamics, and then manufacture the corresponding improvement in carbon fiber components to install in the physical car for the next race. Every time there’s a new race they drive a new version of the car, never the same car twice. Such process innovation is becoming common in manufacturing.

The panel also discussed how F1’s “development lab on wheels” could help accelerate the research and adoption of sustainable fuels for internal combustion engines and create a more holistic vehicle technology mix for a net-zero future.

Putting the chill on burnout

Monne Williams and Diana Ellsworth pose for a picture
From left, Diana Ellsworth and Monne Williams, both McKinsey partners
Monne Williams and Diana Ellsworth pose for a picture

About one third of employees say they are experiencing burnout as they adjust to hybrid work and new requirements for being back in the office. “We are also seeing compassion fatigue—people exhausted from the stress of intensive management during a two-year crisis,” points out Monne Williams, a McKinsey partner.

“The role of the manager is really important in helping individuals manage their burnout,” says Diana Ellsworth, also a partner. “A big part of that is pragmatic—helping them figure out and make good decisions about their workload. Rarely are there situations when you can’t prioritize, sequence, and/or determine what has to be done to the 100 percent mark, versus 80 percent. And it’s about helping people think through what exactly does ‘good’ look like?”

It’s also about how you handle tough conversations, specifically in addressing toxic behavior, which is reported by half of employees as a key contributor to burnout.

Diana advises focusing on the impact of the behavior in a factual, unemotional way: “This means clearly stating what the behavior resulted in: hurt feelings, inhibiting brainstorming, shutting down conversations—and how this leads to the team being less collegial, productive, inclusive; consequences that presumably the person doesn’t actually intend through their behavior.”

And research shows that empathy—simply checking in and making it clear that you care about the well-being of your employees—matters a lot, in and of itself.

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