Women in Project Management - A Work in Progress

Women in Project Management - A Work in Progress

While women make up about a third of the project management population, that figure hasn’t changed much over the years. And it’s an even smaller population--almost none--in leadership roles.

Here are some other interesting facts:

  • Out of all project managers only 30% are women
  • Women’s leadership style is more mentoring and coaching
  • Research has found that women are better than men at project scheduling and budgeting
  • Women are 9x more likely to be assigned to a team where the manager is a female
  • The pay gap for managers is 23.1% with the difference being predominantly due to promotion rates
  • Women are more likely to be “transformational” leaders serving as role models, helping employees develop skills and being motivational
  • Only 1% of women were classified as project directors or board members compared to 4% of men

As the 2018 Major Project Association gender balance report pointed out, “Whilst a company may be recruiting significant numbers of women at apprentice and graduate levels they are not staying in great numbers; they are not getting involved in major projects; and are not achieving leadership positions. This is a problem.”

So why is that? Stereotypes have existed for decades - centuries even - over what roles are good for women vs. men. And that is no different when it comes to the job of project manager. Assumptions of this role requiring someone who is assertive, analytical and results-oriented automatically steer the preference towards men. Women, being more gentle and caring are less suited for the job. Can you believe this mess?

As a rule, women aren’t great at promoting themselves. They tend to be more modest about their skills and abilities and won’t push for themselves. When advancement opportunities come along, they may not be the ones getting themselves to the front of the line. So they’re not doing themselves any favors.

And it goes back even farther. Girls are discouraged from pursuing an education in the STEM subjects (science, technology, education, and mathematics). Stopping their ability to become eligible for a career in project management before it even starts. Project Managers come from industries like construction, technology, defense and transport which require degrees in the STEM subjects. So women don’t get into the fields that get them the jobs that get them selected to be project managers. Doomed from the start.

Project Manager jobs also don’t tend to be 9 to 5 roles which don't fit for women. They require the ability to also manage home and family and focusing totally on project management doesn’t work. Does this sound sexist? Good. It’s supposed to. No this isn’t how it happens for all women or all families but it is how it happens a lot of the time and why women have a hard time breaking into roles that require going way beyond the 40-hour workweek.

Another aspect which is also a factor of a lack of women in the role is that if men are in project manager roles, they will typically hire men to replace them. It’s not their fault. It’s just people doing what they’ve always done. We can’t really blame the men. If they look around and all they see are other men, what are they to do? But it is also an issue of creating opportunities and making sure that women are getting noticed and given advancement positions when they arise.

Because what does gender diversity in the workplace mean? Any kind of diversity means more creativity, more innovation, more ideas. Why wouldn’t a company want to generate that kind of excitement? Of course, they would! Promoting women into positions of leadership adds an important voice to the conversation from which companies can greatly benefit.

But women have great job satisfaction as project managers. Some of the things they value about the work include:

  • The fact that each project is unique
  • The joy of working with others to achieve a goal and produce clear results
  • The collaboration with a wide variety of teams and clients

What will foster an increase in women’s participation in project management? There are a few ways to close the gap. First, raising awareness of the scope of activities female project managers handle. Next, enabling networking activities that allow female project managers to discuss their profession and inviting women to learn about opportunities. And where possible, develop mentoring programs with women interested in developing the skills to become project managers in the future.

Progress is being made but more needs to be done. All working toward a more gender-diverse workforce benefits everyone.