Diversity and inclusion aren’t departments, efforts, or projects at McKinsey. They’re how we live, what we respect, and a fundamental aspect of our success. As our research has shown for years, we couldn’t deliver on our purpose or mission or live our values without diversity and inclusion.
These are lovely words but what do they mean in practice? Alexis, an engagement manager in our Silicon Valley location, shares an example of how diversity in all forms was critical to the success of other recent project:
Our client, a global consumer product goods company, wanted to grow a personal care category in the US and another major geography. We put together a McKinsey team of colleagues from various backgrounds, areas of expertise, races/ethnicities, genders, tenures, beauty regimens and health care habits. Our diversity was critical to our ultimate success.
Painting a picture of the team
Our team included members from Periscope (our marketing & sales technology platform), our Agile team, and our Digital and Design practices, as well as three generalist consultants. One of the business analysts on the team had just returned to McKinsey from a secondment at a skin care company. Everyone brought fresh perspectives and enthusiasm for the work.
The senior partner on the team knew the clients well but hadn’t served them in this space, while the two partners on the team had considerable growth strategy expertise. That mix ensured our solutions leveraged best practices while fitting with our client’s brand, strategy and operations.
We also had experts in specific areas important to market research, like a marketing & sales expert from our Consumer Insights team and data scientists who helped us map growth opportunities and analyze the results of our consumer survey.
I was the engagement manager. I helped assemble the team, plan our approach, guide our work, and liaise between clients, leadership, and the working team. I focus in data-driven growth for women’s consumer brands – especially in beauty – so I had relevant industry experience to share, too.
Since our goal was growth in two geographies, we had McKinsey teams operating in both countries. Naturally, this was essential so we could understand the nuances of each market and speak with clients in both languages. We also had a racially diverse team in the US, which helped us understand different beauty routines.
Though the beauty industry historically caters more toward women, we had a mix of genders on our team, which allowed us to think more holistically about the category. In particular, the men on our team helped us consider multiple use cases in men’s beauty, which is a rapidly growing segment.
Putting diversity to work
One of the major parts of the project was market research to help understand consumer preferences and behaviors. As in any survey, the data you get is only as good as the questions you ask. Our diverse team was critical to developing the right survey questions.
Our first draft anchored on daily beauty routines or occasional events. As we worked on it with our team, we realized there were common weekly routines we weren’t capturing. Some differed by race, others varied by gender, country, and beauty and personal care needs. We also considered fluidity and how people’s behaviors may influence their choice of brands.
This made a huge difference in the questions we asked and the way we structured the final survey. We couldn’t just ask respondents what they did yesterday and extrapolate the answer to the rest of the week. Instead, we had to ask how they cared for themselves during a longer time period.
In analyzing the results, we moved away from traditional gender and age stereotypes in the industry and into attitudinal customer segments. The results of our research influenced our client’s strategy and could have been much different if we had not been so holistic in our approach.
Not only did the diversity of our team help us reach a better solution with our clients, it also helped us grow as individuals. Especially in today’s mostly virtual environment, I got to know my colleagues on a deeper level. We were conscientious about investing time to get to know each other outside of our day-to-day since we didn’t have team dinners or the regular banter that develops when working in the same room. We learned about roommate dynamics, planned meetings around a team member’s triathlon training schedule, and accommodated significant others, children, and more. Our working environment allowed us to show sides of ourselves we probably wouldn’t have a couple of years ago.
Making lasting friendships
That closeness translated into friendships I know will last beyond the end of our engagement. One of the nicest things my team did for me wasn’t even for me. My husband and I moved to San Francisco in the middle of the project. We were living out of a hotel room, and I was working odd hours because we were working so closely with colleagues across the globe. My husband’s birthday arrived, and the hotel front desk called to say we had a package – cupcakes with a note saying, ‘We know this has been hard on not just Alexis, but you, too, David. Happy birthday!” I found out later the new associate on our team suggested the surprise to our engagement director (a partner), who agreed. It was such a nice gesture.
More about Alexis
Alexis is an engagement manager in McKinsey’s Marketing & Sales practice where she focuses on data-driven growth for consumer companies through personalization and agile marketing / capability building.
Prior to joining McKinsey, Alexis spent 10+ years as an entrepreneur in the beauty / women’s lifestyle space. She founded the first online women’s lifestyle magazine designed to promote diversity, reaching more than 240k people a month. Simultaneously, for more than eight years, she advised large consumer product companies and early-stage startups on brand positioning, product development, and launch strategy, with a focus on female customer acquisition. Alexis is the author of two books and regularly appeared on-air as an expert representing beauty brands on NBC, CBS, and E! News.She holds an MBA from Harvard Business School, where she graduated with distinction and served as co-president of the Women’s Student Association. She also holds a master’s in human rights and gender studies from Columbia University.