Management Consultant, PA Consulting
If you want to be involved in all sorts of projects as part of your career, then consulting might well be for you - we talk to Management Consultant Hattie Davison about the women who inspire her and what you can do to get into a top tier uni
A-Levels: History, English Literature, Philosophy and Biology
University of Oxford
Degree: English Language and Literature
"Feminism is about having uncomfortable conversations, listening, not being a bystander and always putting intersectionality first. It’s not easy, and it’s never finished."
What did we learn from Hattie?
Young women should definitely apply to Oxford Uni – Hattie felt she had more individual tuition and is still in contact with some of her tutors today
If you want to do English Literature at uni, get reading – poetry is a good way in as it tends to be shorter
Consultancy is definitely a career path to consider, as you get involved with many different projects very early on
"Feminism compels action" – as Hattie puts it, it's about the hard conversations, the standing up for intersectionality. It's more than just believing in something
Never be afraid to ask questions, or worry you're inconveniencing someone. Just make sure you have the question prepared and ready to go.
Looking over your university experience, what do you feel was the most important thing you did/learnt?
The most important thing that happened to me at university was discovering feminism. I had very limited political awareness at school, but at Oxford I met people with strong opinions; I read more and went to more talks. I joined the literary society, wrote for the feminist zine, produced plays, I ran my college bar. I began to figure out what was important to me.
Have you any advice or tips for other students who want to go to Oxford? Would you encourage young women to apply there?
I would absolutely encourage young women to apply to Oxford – I had the time of my life there. My impression is that you receive far more individual tuition at Oxford compared to most other universities. That really matters for two reasons – firstly, it was an enormous privilege to discuss my ideas with world-class experts. My tutors challenged and encouraged me, and I remain in touch with some of them. Secondly, when your degree is such an investment, it is worth considering what you’re getting in return, especially in arts subjects.
I would advise prospective students to practice the techniques tutors use at interview. So, try to get comfortable with commenting on something you’ve never seen before, and defending your ideas orally.
And if you apply to read English, then read as much poetry as you can – it takes much less time than novels. And maybe read women poets like Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Wroth, Christina Rosetti, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Sylvia Plath, Mary Wortley Montagu…
Since graduating, you have worked in variety of organisations and often people are afraid of moving between roles or making changes to their career paths - what have been your experiences of moving between many different roles? Would you recommend it?
I don’t think that most people in my generation will have a single career path. When I graduated, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do. And each role I’ve done has taught me more about what I like (and, importantly, what I don’t like), and the kinds of things I’m good at. I’m currently working in management consultancy for PA Consulting. When I chose to join PA Consulting I was working as a research assistant at a think tank in Westminster. I understood a bit about Whitehall and machinery of government – PA Consulting allowed me to specialise in government consultancy immediately.
Consultancy is great training at the start of your career because you do such a variety of projects. I’ve been exposed to so many different government programmes. A highlight was supporting HM Courts and Tribunals Service to design a responsive service for the 21st century.
From April 2016 – February 2017, I was seconded to the Cabinet Office as a Policy Adviser. It was a brilliant opportunity and taught me so much about how government operates.
While I was at the Cabinet Office I organised a joint event between the PA Consulting Women’s Network and the Cabinet Office Women’s Network, “Gender in our Government and Beyond” – we had a remarkable panel, discussing how to make women leaders the norm.
Who have your biggest career influences been?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has been a huge influence on me.
Sue Owen, the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, is my role model. I admire her commitment to diversity in the workplace for its basis in action, not just words. She is incredibly frank, bright, generous with her time – and so well dressed…
There are some remarkable women at PA Consulting from whom I have learnt so much – Kate Spencer and Sam Walsh especially.
What are the greatest challenges you’ve faced so far throughout your career?
In one of my earliest roles, at a think tank, I had a bad line manager. We never once had a conversation about my performance, objectives or development. Because I had very little experience of the working world, I didn’t know how to handle it. I knew I was frustrated, but didn’t have a benchmark of management experience to set it against. Nowadays, when I observe bad management practice I try to see it as training for “what not to do” as I become more senior…
My most recent challenge has been learning to be a line manager myself. It’s a very different set of skills – it’s the good kind of challenge.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why should/shouldn't other women consider themselves feminists?
Yes, and I am still learning about how to be feminist. Although feminism is the belief that everyone, regardless of gender, should have equal political, economic and social rights, I don’t think ‘believing’ is enough – feminism compels action. Feminism is about having uncomfortable conversations, listening, not being a bystander and always putting intersectionality first. It’s not easy, and it’s never finished.
What is the one piece of advice that you would like to pass on to other women, regardless of the career they want/are in?
People are, in general, generous with their time. No one is annoyed by a young woman asking them for some advice, and many people are keen to help. I’d say this goes hand in hand with preparing, so you know what you’d like to ask someone, and always being grateful.
Interview by Isabella Ford