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Women in Project Management

In a male dominant society, women take up one third of the project management population. This post highlights challenges for women in the PM industry.
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    Despite different campaigns in an age where equality is being fought with inequality on the frontline of many conversations, women are not always equally represented.


    This is also true in the area of project management.


    It can be difficult to pinpoint why this is, but one common argument is that project managers are essentially found in the industries of construction and engineering. Industries that have historically been male-dominated.


    In fact, women only take up around one-third of the project management population. This ratio also highlights their absence from leadership roles in major projects.


    The Gender Balance Report of 2018 by Major Project Association stated, “ Whilst companies may be recruiting significant numbers of women at apprentice and graduate-level they are not staying in great numbers; they are not getting involved in major projects; and are not achieving leadership positions.”


    Therefore, there is no question that there is a massive gap in women’s involvement in project management and leadership roles. This can be seen to lead to a wide talent pool that is being underutilized.


    Let’s look at what this gap means, why it may be there, and what can be done about it.


    The Situation of Female Project Managers




    Studies on the involvement of women in project management are limited. But the data that is available shows what we have highlighted above, the lack of females in the project management industry and managerial roles.


    Statistics from the PMI (Project Management Institute) highlight that women currently comprise around 20-30% of project management professionals worldwide. A German project management association’s “Gesellschaft für Projektmanagement” reinforces this by estimating that 30% of German project managers are female.


    If women were to become more prominent in project management positions, they would bring a diverse skill set to the industry. Here is how:


    Qualities of a Project Manager that Women could Provide


    1. Teamwork


    Women are seen to have a great ability to manage teams which is an essential skill for the management of a team working on any project.


    A study conducted by Cartwright and Gales in 1995 found that “women have significantly more of a team management style than men, characterized by a high regard for people, and a high regard for task.”


    The study also highlighted that women often have a greater sense of awareness and cultural incongruence.


    2. Interpersonal Communication


    Many studies including Snyder D, Mclaurin J.R, Little B., and Taylor R.’s in 1996 have found that women possess greater interpersonal communication skills than men as well as greater abilities of non-verbal communication.


    Interpersonal Communication is an essential skill for a project manager to possess, especially when you consider the range of people that a project manager is dealing with, in the span of any single project.


    3. Compassion and Empathy


    Women have also been seen to have a great sense when it comes to interpreting problems, and are able to better maintain tight control.


    Managing projects involves managing the tradeoffs between cost, time, and scope.


    Women can be argued to have greater sensitivity when it comes to showing concern and caring from team members and staff.


    This is no way is an indication that either gender would make better project managers. It does highlight, however, that incorporating a full range of abilities and skills will lead to successful outcomes for each project and the industry as a whole.


    Wage Gap in Project Management


    Before we look into the figures of the wage gap between men and women in project management, it is important to understand that these figures do not depict the entire picture of this gap.


    The first thing that you need to understand is that the gender pay gap is not necessarily the same thing as equal pay.


    Essentially the calculation of the pay gap involves each employee in an organization being sorted in terms of their pay. The median salary of women and men is taken. This salary is then compared. It is the difference between these figures that is the gender gap. Therefore, the gender pay gap not only identifies what each gender is paid but also where each stands in the ranks of the company.


    If we consider that this pay gap also highlights the ranks of women and men in project management professionals this makes sense.


    There is a rise in the number of women taking up roles in project management. A 2019 survey conducted by The Association for Project Management found that an increased number of women are joining the project profession.


    There are more than 18 to 35 women project professionals than there are men. Moreover, 49% of women respondents show they have 5 or fewer years’ work experience highlighting the larger proportion of women who are newer to the profession.


    Age and experience are an indication for the reason of higher salaries as an individual rise through the ranks for higher tier positions.


    If the number of men who are more experienced and older in project management is of a greater proportion it is likely they are paid more due to their experience and seniority. This itself could be a major contributor to the gender wage gap.


    In fact, although there may be a rise in the number of women who are involved in project management, the different roles that you can hold as a project professional explains the gap.


    There are more men that are describing themselves in roles such as the head of projects, senior project managers, board members, and consultants. These roles warrant higher salaries as compared to the roles that women are holding. In comparison, there are more women that are in roles such as assistant project managers, project coordinators, and project administrators.


    The 2020 Association for Project Management’s Salary and Market Trends Survey found that the average salary for men was £52,500 while it was £37,500 for women.


    The gap had widened from 24% the year before to 40% in the year 2020.


    This increase in the gap could be the number of women who are entering the profession at junior levels.


    So, should we just wait for a few years so that the women entering the profession now will have climbed up the corporate ladder? Well perhaps, but it is definitely not as simple as that.


    Why Are There fewer Women in Project Management?




    The reason why there are fewer women taking up roles in project management is unclear. There are a number of possible reasons that this may be. Here are just a few examples that could be leading to the disparity in gender in the project management profession.


    The first reason that many people point out argues that gender disparity starts even before a woman begins her career. Girls are often discouraged, whether consciously or otherwise, from taking up STEM subjects, that is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.


    This could explain why fewer women are leading major projects. This is because, at a higher level, project managers are often selected from particular fields such as construction, engineering, defense, transport, and technology which are fields that carry on from STEM subjects.


    Another reason for this disparity can be seen in the societal pressures that some women have to deal with. With certain roles available to project managers there is a lack of flexibility that makes it hard to align with life commitments.


    Women are traditionally considered the primary caregivers in our society. This requires them to take care of children or other family members which makes it harder to take up roles that will not provide the flexibility to do this.


    Moreover, with changes in culture and lifestyles, it is becoming more necessary for many families that both parents work. Since women are still also considered primary caregivers, they then resort to taking up roles that are either part-time or offer flexibility in working hours. Generally, these roles pay less and thus this exacerbates the pay gap between the genders.


    Another reason that women feel they are unable to take up more roles or bridge the wage gap in project professions is the stereotypes and bias that they face when they enter the profession. This not only hinders their climb up the organizational ladder for jobs with higher pay, but it also discourages many women from even entering the field.


    This is a common phenomenon for many fields that are male-dominated.


    These are just some of the possible reasons why there is such a disparity in the number of women taking up roles in the project management profession when you compare them to the number of men.


    Ladies, There’s More Where That Came From


    This article has barely scratched the surface of the situation of women in project management and their role in the project management profession.


    There is still a lot to learn and a lot more than needs to be researched to get to the bottom of the disparity and also understand how this can be rectified.


    It is generally agreed that diversity in project management, even in regards to gender balance, will help deliver better project results and bring about benefits to the company or organization as a whole.


    So, what can we do about this?


    Well, one way is to encourage girls at a young age when they are in schools and universities to consider taking up STEM subjects so that they can then come into such fields and be able to take up project manager positions.


    This however would take a long time to show any tangible improvements. Although, as mentioned above there is a growing number of women entering the project profession.


    Another way could be to mandate gender diversity through quotas. This could be argued against that it disputes that jobs should be awarded on merit. However, as established above there are many qualified women who do not take up roles due to stereotypes or gender bias, or even just the lack of flexibility they are after in their work.


    Change is coming, but till then we need to be vigilant and conscious of what can be done in our respective organizations to mend this gap and get the most of projects that are being worked on.


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