Women at McKinsey – Jill Zucker and Katy George




March 31, 2023This 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 Jill Zucker, a senior partner in New York who brings a unique perspective to help clients anticipate the changing needs of consumers in financial services and adjacent markets. For more Q&As throughout the month, bookmark this page.

Tell us about a career-defining moment.

As I think about my career, I had a mentor before I joined the firm who told me, “Never say no to a job you don’t have.” And that is 100% why I’m at McKinsey today. A colleague of ours called me when I was at Columbia, out of the resume book. That was the recruiting strategy at the time. I think all my classmates at Columbia were called by members of the New York office at McKinsey & Company. He said, “You should apply to McKinsey.” I said, “Oh, no. I’m going to go back to investment banking.” That’s what I had done before the firm.

And he said, “Well, we have the corporate finance group very similar to investment banking,” which, of course, we know is not entirely true, but I had this birdie in my head that said, ”Never say no to a job you don’t have.” So I dropped my resume.

I like to think of myself very much as an accidental consultant who, 17 years later, loves what I do.

But if it weren’t for that advice I got a lot the way very early in my career, like many of my classmates, I would not have returned the phone call and would not have pursued the opportunity to work at the firm.

What are you most proud of?

Two things that I’m most proud of. One is I’m really proud to be a role model to my three daughters. When my 11-year-old says, out of the blue, “I want to be like you, Mommy, when I grow up,” it is one of my proudest moments. To be present at home for three girls and show them that you can have an important role in your community, and in society, and in business, is something that I’m incredibly proud of.

The other thing that I take a lot of pride in is seeing those who I’ve mentored, both clients and colleagues, succeed. It is among my proudest moments when people that have come up in the ranks are elected partner or elevated in their role, or get a leadership position in their company, and I feel like I’m helping them accomplish their own objectives, their own dreams, is really a moment of pride.

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

I think you have to, like all colleagues, really stand up for yourself. I remember probably a less inspiring moment, when I was about seven months pregnant with my second daughter and I had been working on developing a client opportunity for many, many months. It finally came to fruition, and a colleague of mine said, “Well, of course you’re not going to the work.” And I said, “Why wouldn’t I do the work? It’s six weeks of work. I’m seven months pregnant. I see no reason why I can’t do the work.” And they had just assumed that a male colleague was going to take the opportunity forward.

I was really upset, and I spent the weekend going back through my calendar and showing, on email, all the meetings I had attended to create this opportunity for the firm. I sent an email saying, “I’m really disappointed. These are the seven or eight interactions that I’ve personally had, and I want to be part of this. And I don’t see why I would be asked to step down at this moment.”

I think I just raised awareness, because they had assumed I didn’t want to do it because it was in Boston, and I was in New York, and I would need to travel. I said, “Well, I’m okay to go there. I have advice of my doctor that it’s fine. By the way, there’s conference calls, and it’ll be fine.” And the client was okay with it, so I think you do need to stand up for your own values. You need to stand up for what you believe in. And hopefully others can lift you up, but there are moments where you need to take advantage of lifting yourself up, and that is what I did in that moment.

How do you stay energised?

I think my family and my own personal values really keep me grounded. We have a family tradition of being together on Friday night to welcome the Jewish Sabbath together. No matter what’s happening, at 6:00 or 6:30, my doorbell rings, and usually guests and friends arrive for dinner.

My whole family has figured out how to get dinner on the table for ten or 15 people on Friday. We all have our jobs so that we can do it. And no matter what’s happening at work, I answer the door and I maintain that family tradition.

Otherwise, I could stay at my desk for many hours, as many of our colleagues do. I think having that moment of pause and reflection in the week—for me, it’s tied to my own tradition and my values, but for others, it’ll be tied to other things—is just a moment to reset and it gives me a ton of energy every week. I know no matter how hectic things are, that I have that moment together with family and friends to get energized.

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

I, too, would say the advice that I have is sort of never say no to the job that you don’t have. But importantly, there will be moments of highs and lows in all our careers. I described some of those over the course of this discussion.

I really take the advice of, “This too shall pass.” The best times will not always be the best times. The worst times certainly will not always be the worst times. If you can continue to stay focused and keep your energy up through the conversations we just had, times ahead will always be better than the times behind. To keep that perspective is important for people as they go through this journey. Whether male or female, it’s an important lesson.



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Katy George


Related Video

March 28, 2023

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 Katy George, senior partner and chief people officer. Katy oversees all people functions across the firm, including diversity and inclusion, and leads client transformation and research around technology-enabled operations and manufacturing. For more Q&As throughout the month, bookmark this page.

Tell us about a career-defining moment.

One of the moments that was defining for me was when I was in my first year at McKinsey and really figuring out what a consultant did. I was working with a woman who was very experienced, and we worked together on defining a new pricing approach. I saw the kind of value that I could bring, both by working with her, hand-in-hand, but also bringing all of the expertise of our firm to bear.

I remember being in a sales meeting, where I helped train the sales force on this new approach, and they literally went out into the field and started calling in, talking about how successful this was, and how much they appreciated the clarity and the transparency around the pricing. That was a career-defining moment for me, seeing the value of joint problem-solving, bringing together different types of expertise, and seeing how it translates to real business and people impact.

What are you most proud of?

The thing I’m most proud of in my life, period, is my son, Peter. My son is 23 years old, and as a working mom, it was always very important to me that I spent the time, and had a really great relationship, with him. I feel great about the relationship we have. In fact, he asks me a lot for career advice, which is very satisfying. It’s very nice to know that my relationship with him is stronger because of the career that I have, not strong “in spite” of my career.

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

I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned being a woman in the workplace is just how effective being my authentic self can be. Not trying to be somebody else, not trying to copy somebody else’s style, not trying to be more serious, or more macho, or more anything. What I’ve found is that the more I live into my own personal style, the more authentic I am and the more effective I am.

How do you stay energised?

I stay energized both by really making sure that I protect time for my family and friends and I’m pretty rigorous about doing that on weekends. I also make time for myself, frankly just to recharge, whether that’s by watching Hallmark movies or going to the gym; it depends on the day.

But I also recharge by making sure that I’m spending the time at work in a way that is really fulfilling. For me, that always means being with other people. I love working with members of my team. I love reaching out and talking to clients. I love problem-solving with colleagues about different issues.

When I find that I am kind of down and drained, I really make a point of making sure that the next day on my calendar I’ve got some really energizing interactions with people where I’m moving the ball with them together.

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

My advice is twofold. First, take a long view. Any day, any week, any month might not feel like you are achieving the balance you want to achieve or making progress against your goals. What I’ve found is that over time you develop a lot of skill, and you develop a lot of trust and flexibility, all of which allow you to be more self-directed in what you do and how you do it and, also, allow you to achieve more balance in your life. Stick with it and take a long view, and don’t give up too easily.

The second piece of advice I’d have is just follow your passion. My career has been kind of an interesting combination of taking a chance and following opportunities that arose, but having a throughline around some of the topics around the future of work, manufacturing issues, [etc.], have always inspired me and motivated me.

It’s this combination of being willing to take detours, and to do things that are practical for your life even if they’re not in line with some life plan, but then recognizing that over time you can pull those threads of long-term passion and interest together.


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