by Cyndee Miller
There’s no denying the buzz around gender diversity and parity in the workplace over the last couple of years. Last May, when PM Network ran a cover story about the state of women in project management, we saw the issue taking on an “extraordinary and undeniable urgency, with demands for gender equality rising to a roar heard around the world.” From Washington, D.C., USA to Sydney, Australia, millions of people marched for the cause. In Spain alone, more than 5 million workers took part in a “feminist strike." And it looks this year will be the same.
So after all the protests, after all the articles about equal pay in the workplace, after all the calls for female representation in the C-suite, how is it that the world has made so little progress?
Indeed, by some measures, we’ve even slid back: Last year, proportionately fewer women participated in the labor force, according to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) latest Global Gender Gap Report. And the situation may get even worse in a workplace increasingly driven by rapidly changing technology. Working with LinkedIn, WEF found women represent only 22 percent of the artificial intelligence (AI) workforce and that they’re less likely to be in senior roles or signal expertise in high-profile, emerging AI skills.
At the current rate of change, WEF predicts it will take 202 years to achieve economic parity. Two centuries? That’s spectacularly depressing.
In some ways, the project management profession may serve as a blueprint for achieving greater workforce inclusivity. Women are now a fixture in the profession, often leading prominent or priority projects. Check out that picture above. Those are just some of the powerful female project and program managers featured in PM Network in the past year alone. These women delivered results, from rebuilding a veterans’ healthcare facility decimated by Hurricane Katrina to testing a viticulture robot on an Italian winery. They got it done. They made strategy a reality.
The project management profession isn’t perfect, though. As in many other fields, wage disparities persist. There’s an approximately US$11,000 gap between average male and female project manager salaries in the United States, according to the latest edition of PMI’s Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey. China follows a similar pattern: CNY220,036 for men versus CNY193,502 for women, on average.
So what needs to change? A big part of the problem comes down to actually recognizing there’s a problem. PMI 2019 Pulse of the Profession data show 65 percent of male respondents say women face “no major obstacles” in project management today. Only 39 percent of women agreed with that.
The blinders have to come off if organizations are going to attract the best project talent and capitalize on the full value women bring to the management ranks. And that’s going to take some real effort.
“Diversity, gender equality, it’s not something that changes overnight—because people’s opinions don’t change overnight, unfortunately,” says Kush Dhillon, engagement manager at Capgemini in London, England. “It’s a learning process.”
It’s also a process that must be fully supported by senior leaders committed to making it an ongoing conversation.
“And through that, I absolutely fundamentally believe—and it’s been proven—that the business will do better, the people in your business will be happier,” she says.
Ms. Dhillon is part of the upcoming episode, “Empowering Women and Girls” on Projectified™ With PMI. I got a sneak preview and strongly recommend you download it next Wednesday (13 March). After all, the discussion should go on long after we mark International Women’s Day today. (And while you’re at it, you should also check out “Women in Project Leadership — Gaining Ground” from last June.) You can also head over to fellow Voices blogger Jen Skrabak, PfMP, PMP, who recently took a look at three cognitive biases holding women back.
Get this right and the effects would be massive. According to the Women in Work Index 2019 from PwC, if Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries matched their female workforces to that of Sweden—which has a 69 percent female employment rate—the total GDP boost could be as much as US$6 trillion.
In the meantime, the reporter in me wants to hear about your experiences. Do women in project management still face significant obstacles? Are you seeing improvement?