Developing next generation women leaders for—and beyond—your organization

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are pleased to share some of the work our talent attraction team is doing to support McKinsey’s deep and long-standing commitment to advancing women in the workplace and in society. As a firm, we have invested in years of research, such as our annual Women in the Workplace report, and have innovated our own talent practices, including facilitating support networks and creating sponsorship and professional development opportunities for women.
One program at the intersection of our efforts to innovate for ourselves and to support women’s leadership more broadly is our Next Generation Women Leaders program. Launched in 2012, NGWL serves two purposes at once: it is an important source of outstanding women candidates for the firm and an effective leadership development program for all participants, regardless of whether they apply.  

We hope this program can be a model for others who are looking for ideas that are good for their institutions and, at the same time, good for the world, and we are pleased to share what we have learned with others who want to try something similar.

The mechanics of NGWL 

We offer the NGWL program to women in their final two years of college and to those with up to eight years of work experience, with the central benefit being a chance to step back and think about how to shape an impactful career. Applicants get a taste of some of our full-time assessment tools, such as our problem-solving game; and we add a careful manual review on top of that to ensure we are finding and selecting talented participants from a broad spectrum of profiles and backgrounds. 

Like many innovations, NGWL started small—as an in-person program in Europe. Over time, we scaled the original model to the Middle East, Africa, and Asia to provide more women with the development experiences that had proven so meaningful for the European participants. Then, in 2020, as with other programs, we were forced to find a way to make the experience virtual. And like so many newly virtual programs, this shift opened up unexpected opportunities to expand the program to even more participants, create greater global connectivity, and contribute to our firm’s sustainability goals, all at the same time. 

The content itself is designed around the twin goals of introducing participants to McKinsey and our work while leaving them with practical, actionable leadership skills that they can use in any of their future professional pursuits. Topics include mentorship and sponsorship, leadership, and effective communications, among others. In addition, participants hear from women business leaders about the lessons they’ve learned along the way and get a chance to ask questions that might feel too risky or taboo in other forums. 

The start of a lasting connection

We know that sustained growth and connection require more than a one-and-done experience, so we maintain our connection to NGWL participants with post-event follow-up workshops, covering a range of other skills and topics such as business communication, intercultural collaboration, time management, feedback, and resilience. Nearly 80 percent of participants join these additional sessions.

NGWL also provides participants with the foundation for long-term friendships and mentoring relationships. Many of our NGWL alumni stay in touch with one another for years after going through the program together. These connections are an informal but essential part of participants’ continued growth and development.
We also stay connected to applicants who we did not have room to include in the program—some are invited to join our “keep in touch” program, which includes other skill-building sessions and connectivity events. 

The enduring impact – for participants, and for us  

One way to think about the impact of this program is in the numbers. We have brought 3,000 women through the program over the last 12 years, and in that time, we have hired more than 1,000 of them. Many of the other participants have accelerated their careers in other fields.

But even more important are the stories we hear about how the program has helped them. Some participants have described the program as a professional turning point, giving them the confidence to take on new leadership roles they had been hesitant to pursue. Others described how they drew on the network of supporters they gained through the program to get invaluable advice during a career transition. And many others tell us about the everyday moments they are able to handle as more well-rounded, self-assured leaders.

These and many other stories are a reminder of the opportunity we have and the responsibility we feel to contribute to the advancement of women around the world. We welcome the chance to connect with other leaders who are working on similar innovations so we can learn from one another and continue to advance the state of the art for this important work.

To read up on our recent research on supporting women’s professional advancement, visit:
Closing the women’s health gap: A $1 trillion opportunity to improve lives and economies
Women in the Workplace 2023
Fundamentals matter: A DEI leader’s perspective on new Women in the Workplace research