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Kweilin Ellingrud


This Women’s History Month, we’re chatting with McKinsey leaders about their role as women in the workplace and beyond. Today, we’ll hear from Kweilin Ellingrud, McKinsey Global Institute director and senior partner in Minneapolis who leads insights and discussions on future of work, gender equality, racial equity, and productivity. For more Q&As throughout the month, bookmark this page.

Tell us about a career-defining moment.

One career-defining moment for me was coming back after my first maternity leave and figuring out how to juggle things in my client situations, how to figure out travel when that was required, but also how to manage things on the home front and working through that with my sponsors and clients. That was a defining moment for me, and one that gave me a lot of joy in understanding the full spectrum of flexibility that I could have at work, while also managing things at home as well, in a way that I was happy with.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of helping to accelerate gender equality through my research, through my client work, through things that I do day-to-day as part of my day job. I think for a long time I pursued my social-impact interests as part of my personal time, through board service, through helping nonprofit organizations pursue their strategies. And when I was finally able to integrate that into my day-to-day work, I found much greater fulfillment, and I’m proud of being able to pull those things together.

What’s a big or surprising lesson you’ve learned as a woman in the workplace?

One surprising lesson is that there’s not very many women at senior levels. And I guess I should’ve expected that, seeing the data. But I was surprised. I was surprised because, frankly, across my entire academic career from undergraduate to graduate school, women were doing really well.

And then I entered the workforce and, especially at more senior levels, I didn’t see a lot of women, and I didn’t see a lot of people of color. That surprise is true across industries—certainly in some industries more than others.

I think the positive side of that is, as a woman, as a person of color, what you say, what you do, will stand out more—it will be remembered. So if you do speak up in a meeting, they will remember what you say. So make it count. Think through how you want to be perceived before a meeting. Think through what you want to say, and make it memorable. That will help you in the long run.

How do you stay energized?

I stay energized by spending time on work that I personally find meaningful and fulfilling, and that helps me continue to learn. I do think about every week, every month, “What did I do in this last period that gave me joy, that gave me energy, and how do I spend more of my time on that?” I also think hard about my personal operating model and how I can be a little bit more effective every day, every week. And as I get better at that, it gives me more time to spend and invest on the things that I find meaningful.

What advice do you have for women in their professional journeys?

My advice for women in their careers would be, number one, it is a team sport. Choose your life partner, should you choose one, very, very carefully. It is probably the most important decision you will make for your career. And second, persist. Persist at those moments when it’s hard, when you think you might want to follow a different path. I think I have reflected over the years and the times when I chose the path to reengage—to dig in deeper but maybe set clearer boundaries—have helped me carve a path that I have found balance in but also found a lot of professional fulfillment.


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