Celebrating the Women of PMI

With this International Women’s Day focusing on embracing equity, PMI’s Brantlee Underhill sat down with several women leaders from PMI to discuss what embracing equity means to them, the challenges they have overcome as women in project management, and why community and membership are so important for helping empower women.

Written by Brantlee Underhill | PMI • 7 March 2023

Celebrating the Women of PMI

International Women’s Day, celebrated annually on 8 March, is a global day to recognize the incredible achievements and progress of women. But the day also marks a day of reflection and emphasizes a call to action for accelerating women's equality.

That’s why the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #EmbraceEquity. Women have been challenging gender stereotypes and discrimination both personally and professionally, breaking down barriers and drawing attention to bias for a long time. But progress is still to be made. As we know, not everyone comes from identical circumstances. Equity, however, recognizes individuals have different abilities and emphasizes the need for unique opportunities and resources for each of us to thrive. To truly embrace equity, we must deeply believe, value, and seek out difference as a positive element of life.

At Project Management Institute (PMI), we have a bench of strong, women leaders across sectors. I’m proud to be one of them leading our community efforts. So, in honor of International Women’s Day, I asked several of our women leaders their thoughts on the day, what it means to be a woman in project management and why community and membership is so important to the women in our profession.


Brantlee: As a woman and ally to all who International Women’s Day recognizes; the day means a great deal to me. But it’s also important for us to recognize and communicate that this day isn’t a movement that can be powered solely by women and something that only empowers women. International Women’s Day is a movement that benefits everyone – women, men, and children – and everything from science to the environment and more. We have all seen what can be accomplished when women have a seat at the table – from more diverse perspectives and innovative thinking, to increased productivity and higher employee retention and satisfaction, particularly in corporate settings. On this day, all should feel empowered to participate and celebrate. So, what does International Women’s Day mean to each of you?

Lenka Pincot: To me, International Women's Day is a reminder that we still need to talk about diversity and inclusion. I believe that inclusivity for women, including leadership opportunities, is part of our daily jobs – but it's great to have a dedicated day where we can all stop and reflect on what we’ve achieved and how can we move forward.

Sierra Hampton-Simmons: It illustrates how society has evolved over the years, how women’s roles are changing, and overall, how we’re becoming more instrumental to society. Women have always been instrumental to society, but now we are on a path to experiencing true equity. It’s exciting to see the many ways women are driving change forward.

Mary Pat Kessler: Every day I am inspired by women across the world; from those in my family, to my colleagues at PMI, to those whose stories we see in the media. I’m proud to be part of a community of women who are breaking down barriers and making significant contributions in their fields. I think International Women’s Day should also be a day of reflection because, while we have come so far, there is also still so much more that needs to be done.

Grace Najjar: I also see International Women’s Day as a day to pause and reflect on the importance of being a woman. It’s a privilege that we get to partake in so many different roles in our lives. Women have the power to drive and shape a better future for this world. But we must all be open to embracing and adopting different cultures, geographies, and ways of working – not just for ourselves, but for future generations.

SoHyun Kang: I agree – and for me, this is a day to celebrate and share our stories as women. As a working mom, every day I juggle my time between my daughter and her learning, work, and time for myself. But this is a day to reflect and celebrate our unique journeys – no matter our paths in life.

Brantlee: Beautifully stated, SoHyun. Now, what does it mean to be a woman in project management? What progress have you seen for women in project management to-date? And more so, what progress would you like to see in the future?

Lenka: I come from an industry that was heavily male dominated. Today, I’m seeing more women pursuing these roles, which is fantastic. Unfortunately, women in certain fields and industries are still the minority. It’s not just about project management. It’s about overall ensuring that women are represented. For example, there was a situation years ago where I was the “first woman to do X.” Of course, I was happy to be the first to accomplish that goal, but it also made me take a step back and reflect because there should be more women represented and breaking down these barriers.

SoHyun: According to PMI data, male project professionals outnumber female project professionals three-to-one. This gap is even wider in some regions, but I’m hopeful for our young aspiring project professionals as the leadership divide is narrow with 23% of men and 20% of women reporting they are in some level of management role. This shows that the tides are changing, and more opportunity is available for women to be in leadership positions within the profession. Our research has also shown that more women are utilizing agile and hybrid approaches in project management, and that women are leveraging power skills more – like communication, collaboration, and strategic thinking – which we know are incredibly important to professionals across the globe.

Grace: Building on that, as women, we use our power skills innately. I’d love to see more women visible throughout each stage of a project, especially in leadership positions. From taking ownership over various parts of the project life cycle to using our strategic mindsets to push projects forward, it’s important that we see women in these roles. Specifically, I would like to see more women involved in the implementation process of projects, sharing ideas for how we can maximize these projects and their value for different stakeholders, handling the rigorous planning of projects – those whose complexities are constantly changing – and managing the risks of these projects. As part of this, women can also play an enormous role in how we embrace technology throughout the project life cycle – whether it’s machine learning, AI, or the next big thing – and how we can best implement this technology into our existing frameworks and capabilities.

Sierra: Like Grace said, I would love to see more women leaving their mark on the profession. Last year, we issued a report with Accenture to examine the role of the chief transformation officer and the skills needed to excel in this position. Ana Barcus, Senior Manager, Business Agility, from Accenture was instrumental in helping develop the report and bringing it to life. We also work closely with Asya Watkins, founder of Women of Project Management, which supports women, especially those of color, in advancing in the profession. And then there’s Cyndi Snyder Dionisio, who collaboratively led the creation of three editions of the PMBOK® Guide. These women are doing such amazing things – and I know there are so many others out there accomplishing similar goals. It would be great to see these powerhouse women become more visible.

Grace: These women are powerhouses; there is truly nothing that women can’t do. As women, we operate with high emotional intelligence, and I can’t think of a better skillset to have when working on such unique projects with various stakeholders across different roles and specializations. Women have a natural way of pairing our knowledge of frameworks with different capabilities and experiences and adding a human element to each project. As we’ve seen over the past few years, the future has a focus on humanity – particularly in the workplace – and with women at the helm of these projects, I believe we can achieve so much more as a society. Mary Pat: In my role, I have the pleasure of interacting with our vast community every day, and I’m always delighted to see how many women are rising within the profession. As SoHyun stated, our 2020 Pulse of the Profession report found that the percentage of women in project management roles increased globally from 32% in 2015 to 42% in 2020. While this is fantastic to see, and the leadership divide has since narrowed, progress is still to be made as women remain underrepresented in the profession.

Brantlee: That’s an interesting point you make, Mary Pat. Throughout your career, were there specific challenges you have had to overcome because the field, traditionally, is male dominated?

Mary Pat: There can be the perception that, as a woman in a leadership position, you must work harder and longer than your male counterparts to progress. As a society, we can all do better. I see this as a fantastic opportunity for us to have conversations about how every person can work together to create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all.

Lenka: One of the things that I’ve learned over the course of my career is that as women, you need to understand how best to communicate with those around you, and you must also have a good understanding of the male leadership dynamics in the workplace. As much as we want our male counterparts to understand women in leadership positions and our strengths, we also need to understand the other half of the room.

Grace: As a leader, you want to ensure that you set the right tone and expectations for your team from the start. Throughout my career, and especially early on, I’ve faced some resistance from teams in applying my own project management expertise to a project as it was initially regarded as overhead, in addition to being a woman in a leadership position. Many senior leaders did not want me to lead the team or even understand why I was placed in that position. But by setting those expectations early, openly communicating with and listening to your teams, and educating them on the value of project management and what women can uniquely bring to the project, you can ensure your teams feel confident in and respect you as their leader.

SoHyun: Much of this boils down to opportunity – for example, being able to try new things or explore new careers and break gender norms. I was fortunate that my mother constantly encouraged me to try new things growing up. This helped build my self-confidence and now transcends into my professional career.

Lenka: That’s a great point. Confidence is a big obstacle to overcome for many. You should never be ashamed of your accomplishments. I'm proud of my achievements and how far I’ve come as a professional, so it’s important for me to stand tall and project confidence into any room I walk into.

Brantlee: Confidence does have a role to play in this, and it can be easier to feel more confident when you’re surrounded by those who have your back and are cheering you on. A sense of community can make all the difference and we see many examples of community within PMI – members, credential holders, aspiring credential holders, teachers and trainers, volunteers, and our staff. Community reminds us that we are not alone, that we share challenges; when I’m having a difficult or challenging time, there’s probably somebody else out there who has experienced what I am going through. What role does community, membership and networking play in helping empower women in project management?

Mary Pat: Community, membership, and networking are vitally important in empowering women in project management. These resources provide important opportunities for women to connect with other professionals in their field, who can provide valuable resources and knowledge as well as mentorship and support for career growth.

Lenka: To echo Mary Pat, when you are part of a community, you’re exposed to different role models – including women role models. And, where one woman joins something or is visibly present, so will others because they’ll think, “I can do that too.”

SoHyun: It’s powerful to feel a sense of belonging. At PMI, we’re a professional association for project professionals. Regardless of where in the world you live, or which industry you work in, PMI brings together all project professionals so they can share their knowledge and experiences with one another. The same principles apply for women, too. When women come together, we can share our knowledge, experiences, challenges, and our successes to lift others!

Sierra: Communities and a sense of belonging are great for everyone. They provide the support you need to find more ways to apply and stretch your skills and competencies. It’s important to find your tribe – those people who are sitting at the table advocating for you, even when you're not there.

Mary Pat: Our Chapters are an amazing resource for women. Along with incredible networking and learning and development opportunities, they can provide a sense of belonging and support, as well as valuable career progression pathways.

Grace: I’ve also found it so valuable to have women leading our Chapters – not just for me, but for women across the world. These leaders are active, knowledgeable, inviting, and engaging with our members. For me, I feel like this has helped our community grow and better engage with one another.

Brantlee: It’s so true. When you create a space for people to share support and experiences with one another, you are also helping make each person better and more resilient for what’s to come. Now before we close, do you have any advice for young women who may be considering a career in project management?

Lenka: First, I would say to not be afraid to share your opinions. Say what you feel and ask for what you want. The ability to speak confidently in the workplace will go a long way and open the door for new opportunities. I would also advise women to build their network early on in their careers. Not only can this lead to job prospects, but it will also help you build credibility amongst your peers, both inside and outside your field or industry.

Mary Pat: Believe in yourself and your abilities. Seek out opportunities to learn and grow. Do not be afraid to take risks and pursue your passions, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.

SoHyun: One constant reminder I have for myself, that can apply to others, is that you can do it. As women, we tend to shy away from going after what we want, but we must be more confident and know that we can achieve anything we set our minds to.

Grace: Similarly, don’t be afraid to take that next step. Take the time to understand all aspects of the project at-hand – why you’re working on this project, what makes it important, how you’re going to make it happen, and why the project matters to you, to society, to the environment and to the future. You never know what’s going to happen or who the next great leader will be. To those young professionals, this could be you. But you won’t know unless you take that next step.

Sierra: I think it’s important for younger generations to remember there is no straight line to success. It’s often a very squiggly line. People don’t want to feel like they’re changing their minds or starting over, but that’s what life is about. It’s about evolution, growth, changing directions and doing what's best for you in that moment. It's okay to change your mind. Change is the only thing that’s constant in this world. Our lives are constantly changing. We need to change, too.

Brantlee: Thank you, everyone. It’s so evident that we’ve come a long way as women, not only in the project management profession, but society at large. As Sierra mentioned, your values and perspectives, even your “why”, can change over time as you grow in life and experience. I’m excited to see what women – and all of us – will accomplish over the next 100 years, as our work is truly only just beginning.

Visit pmi.org to learn more about the benefits of membership and community.

Brantlee Underhill headshot

Brantlee Underhill
Chief Community Officer and Interim Managing Director, North America | PMI

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