Categories: Women in Project Management
This blog’s title is People, Planet, Profits & Projects. Much of the time I am talking about the Planet and Projects components (case in point, the series on Bioretention). This particular post focuses on the People and Projects components. It's a book review and a book recommendation.
People. Roughly half of the people on the Planet (okay, so there’s the planet piece, too) are female. An increasing number (luckily, in my humble opinion) are becoming project managers. Ipek Sahra Ozguler (pictured below) of Turkey decided that she would take on a book project to gain insight and perspective of women in project management.
She says, “The aim of realizing this book project is to share the interviewees’ opinions without including my own comments. It is surprising to find out that the majority of the answers were similar across different regions of the world. I think that the perspectives of women project management professionals are more or less similar.”
Ipek interviewed women in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Colombia, Germany, India, Iran, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, United Kingdom, United States.
The book (shown in this post’s photo) is a fascinating read for anyone, because it provides some depth and breadth on an array of concerns that all project managers have. Here are the questions that Ipek asked:
Q1: Describe your journey as a project management professional.
Q2: Why did you choose to become a project management professional?
Q3: Have you encountered any related obstacles in advancing your career?
Q4: Why is it important that more people work in the project management area?
Q5: How can we encourage more people to pursue project management as a career?
Q6: What do you think are the top issues that project managers face today?
Q7: Do you think there is a stereotype attached to project managers?
Q8: Why is it important to celebrate international women's day?
I’ve been a manager and supervisor in the world of project management for a long time (about 4 decades). I have had reported to many male and female line managers and I have had many male and female employees. I have always been interested in knowing how any differences between people (including gender) contribute to the success of projects. Importantly, I also know that I can never really know what a female project manager has to go through in their career progression and in doing their work without the actual perspective of a woman who has been through. This is why I was interested in Ipek’s work.
The particularly interesting finding for me – a male project manager, PMO leader, and academic – was that although there were (of course) differences between the women who shared their perspective, many themes were the same, and most of those themes were not particularly focused on, or limited to, gender issues at all, but rather focused on the general state of project management as a profession.
So there is a lot to learn here!
When there were mentions of gender (and of course, that came up) it went something like this: “We should take advantage of the complementary attributes of males and females” to build better teams. This aligns with my own experience.
My own finding (before the book!): The most successful project teams, and the most successful groups of PMs, when I was a PM director, were about 50% male and 50% female and also were more diverse from a national culture background.
Below I share some categorized observations from the book. You should still get yourself a copy – this is a recommendation, after all!
Regarding PM stereotypes:
The negative stereotypes attached to the project managers are summarized below.
• PM is seen as ‘just an administrative role’. The roles are only operational, not strategic. The other terminologies used instead of the terminology “administrator” are as following: librarians, a kind of secretary.
• PMs are unwanted disrupters who don’t get anything done.
• PMs are nagging people that just get in the functional workers’ way of doing work.
• PMs don’t want any change in their projects.
Sound familiar? Not a male or female issue* – but a project management issue we all face as PM people.
*although I would bet females suffer these stereotypes more than males!
Another theme was the need (as PMs) for our discipline (of project management) to focus on value – lasting value. Here we are talking about value that is delivered well after we’ve moved on to a second or third other project, impacts that may continue after we have long retired.
Yet another theme was career path: the vast majority of these women did not prepare for, or expect a career in project management. They were mostly “accidental” PMs.
When gender differences did come up (and again, I had to look rather hard for this), this is what I found as a theme (paraphrasing here): “we had to work harder than our male counterparts to get work done and to get recognized for that work”.
What other challenges do female PMs face in their career? Some examples:
I do get annoyed though when I see conferences with no or token female presenters. In fact these days I simply don’t go. It’s my personal stand. No females, no Diane!
Deena Gordon Parla
Several challenges come to mind:
1. When project success was determined by a yes/no answer to “was it on time” and “was it within budget”, rather than assessing value realized by the business for the resources invested.
2. Success factors tied to soft skills were not as valued. For example:
- Focus on team dynamics – build cohesion, alignment and foster innovation by bridging across cultures and geographically dispersed organizational units.
- Integrate change management activities into the project scope.
- Maintain alignment through effective communication with the project team and stakeholders.
As a result, team building and stakeholder communications tasks were the first to be “trimmed” to shorten project schedules.
Also, soft skills were not consistently given the same priority for talent development.
What do you think are the top issues that project managers face today?
• Unskilled people passing themselves off as project managers, giving experienced and credentialed project managers a bad name.
• The lack of understanding and respect for project management skills. Inexperienced stakeholders expect project managers to be super beings. If a PM is unable to articulate their value anddemonstrate their work and how it is helping an organisation, they can be easily devalued and dismissed.
As a woman in project management, in the field of technology and IT environment where men dominate, was always challenging. I had to work and study harder than any man that I know in my profession. I had to repeatedly prove that I am an experienced and trustworthy project manager with great results. I admit it was hard but worth it. I had worked with many amazing and innovative teams and together we managed to bring great benefits and values to the company.
Another obstacle definitely concerns gender: As female project management professionals, it seems we have to prove twice as much that we are knowledgeable and experienced. We have the feeling we should hide the fact that we have children. This can be very tedious at times, but all the more incentive to help more women choose and develop careers in project management, then this will hopefully stop one day.
Within the project management profession, I’ve worked in many industries and for many companies. The least mature of the organizations from a project management perspective perceive project managers as administrators, those who set up meetings, take notes, and provide reminders for upcoming milestones. They are missing the significant value that project managers can provide, and the truly unfortunate aspect is that this may be propagated by the project managers themselves, and their own leadership as well. By behaving in a way that supports this notion, it is supported. Instead, project managers need to challenge the existing stereotypes in their organizations by driving projects to completion, realizing business benefits, and communicating widely those benefits.
I was impressed that these professionals did not lean on gender as a career obstacle. They acknowledge it of course, as I am glad they did, but they aren’t using inequality as an excuse. Instead, they lamented the same sort of obstacles any project manager would lament:
- Lack of training
- Didn’t have technical skills
- Poor economic conditions
So, overall – a definite great read for male or female project managers, and, because it has some coaching for those senior managers who hire and gain benefits from projects, I think it’s a great book for senior managers of any stripe. If you are interested in learning more about the book, or want to join others interested in expanding your own perspectives, you can join the LinkedIn group set up by Ipek here.