Inspiring Inclusion: 5 Tips for Project Leaders

Explore the pivotal role of inclusion in driving project success. Discover top strategies from women leaders and project professionals to advocate for diversity, foster open communication, establish inclusive planning processes, support mentorship, and celebrate achievements.

Written by Project Management Institute • 7 March 2024


It’s imperative for project leaders to understand the pivotal role of inclusion in driving project success. But what does it mean to be inclusive? Inclusion is about creating an atmosphere where all employees — regardless of gender, race, age, or sexual orientation — are enabled to make meaningful contributions. These examples merely scratch the surface of an exhaustive list demonstrating inclusivity. It also means organizations seek and retain diverse talent. In fact, research links a strong diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) commitment with better business performance.

In the latest Pulse of the Profession® report, research found that organizations that place a top priority on DE&I have higher-than-average project performance rates. In fact, among all organizational initiatives included in the survey, DE&I has the highest correlation with above-average project performance. Organizations also see financial benefits when they promote an inclusive culture.

It's no surprise then that this year’s International Women’s Day theme is #InspireInclusion. We sat down with women leaders to hear how they inspire inclusion and the importance of doing so when working on projects. Project managers, irrespective of gender identity, play a pivotal role as leaders within their teams, offering a unique chance to promote inclusivity. Here are the top 5 ways project managers can work to build inclusive teams.

1. Advocate for a diverse team composition.

Creating diverse teams isn't just about meeting quotas, it's about tapping into a wealth of perspectives and experiences. Research found that 88% of project professionals believe having diverse project teams increases value. And project managers can actively advocate for diverse hiring practices.

“When hiring, if you don’t have the power to make the decision or make the call, it’s important that you express the desire to seek a diverse representative pipeline,” explains Victoria Toney-Robinson, PMP, senior program manager, Google, Hamburg, Germany; founder of the Germany chapter of the Black Googler Network, and co-chair of the global Black Googler Network. “If that goal is not stated, people tend to work with what they already have in their pool.”

Victoria Toney-Robinson

Sarah Castle, co-founder and director of IF_DO Architecture, London, England, and 2023 PMI® Future 50 honoree agrees. “The first step is setting a goal. What does success look like for you? Does it mean more females in management positions? More Black, Asian, minority, or ethnic representation? Ask what it is that you’re trying to achieve and what you think the benefit will be.”

Sarah, who is also a founding member of Part W, an action group calling for gender equity in the built environment, offers some tips project professionals should consider when building inclusive teams.

  • Carefully craft job descriptions. Craft a job description that uses inclusive language, puts an emphasis on skills rather than qualifications, and uses language that's gender neutral.
  • Do blind recruiting. If you can, hide the details of a CV [or resume] as you're looking through applicants so you're reducing unconscious biases that occur.
  • Hold structured interviews. This involves making sure that the same questions are asked to everybody. Have a diverse interview panel. Make sure it's not just leadership who are making decisions but allow other members of the team to be part of the interview process.
  • Continuously improve. Finally, acknowledge that no [organization] is perfect and leave room for continuous improvement.

2. Create a culture of open communication.

Open communication not only sparks innovation and creativity but also leads to better outcomes. When building diverse teams project managers must foster a positive, supportive culture while ensuring team members feel comfortable sharing bold ideas. Actively encouraging diverse viewpoints leads to more comprehensive solutions and instills a sense of belonging among team members.

“It is the responsibility of the project manager to nurture an environment of psychological safety,” says Dr. Poornima Luthra, associate professor at Copenhagen Business School, Copenhagen, Denmark, and author of “Leading Through Bias”. “You would ideally love to have an environment where people are not aggressive or passive aggressive but constructive with how they communicate.”


Dr. Luthra offered a few ways project managers can promote this behavior.

  • Encourage alternate viewpoints and perspectives.
  • Actively ask “what are we not looking at? What are the things we're not seeing as we're trying to make this decision or as we're trying to brainstorm?”
  • Ensure that people feel their voice is heard and valued and space is created for it.

“This means making sure that the project manager and other allies are in meetings, brainstorming sessions, and discussion groups ensuring that people's voices are not interrupted and when they are interrupted to disrupt the interruption,” she explains.

3. Establish inclusive project planning and decision-making processes.

Inclusive project planning involves inviting input from all team members and being receptive to feedback. Developing an inclusive culture includes embedding DE&I into the team’s decision-making process. This also means weaving inclusion into the organizational strategy, including project processes. By acknowledging blind spots and actively seeking diverse perspectives, project managers can create more robust project plans, make better-informed decisions, and increase project benefits.

“Be open to ideas,” says Asya Watkins, PMP, founder of Women of Project Management, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. “Go in saying ‘this is my best’ and be vulnerable. Ask ‘Do you see any gaps? Do you see any of my blind spots?’ and be very much open to getting constructive feedback, because those are going to be the most successful projects. The end user of that project, they can feel when someone really, thoughtfully planned this out.”


Victoria also recognizes the important role of project professionals in seeking diverse feedback. “In project management it’s very important to be mindful about where people need to be involved. Think about what perspectives are in the room, what perspectives are missing and ask, how do we fill these gaps?”

Dr. Luthra echos Asya and Victoria’s sentiments. For her, that’s where allyship comes in. Allyship is the supporting and advocating of underrepresented groups, even though one may not directly be a part of the group.

“I think for project managers it’s important to start with a deep curiosity to find out how someone who's different from you experiences the very same project team,” she explains. “There's the humble acknowledgement, saying ‘I don't know how someone else experiences this’ and acknowledging your own privilege. Because that's where allyship comes into the picture.”

4. Foster mentorship opportunities.

Mentorship is crucial for career development, especially for women and other underrepresented groups. Research indicates that supporting employees through programs like mentorship can lead to significant benefits. Organizations that offer these programs see higher project performance rates than organizations that don’t. Project managers should actively seek out mentorship opportunities for team members and advocate for their advancement within the organization. By investing in diverse talent, project managers can cultivate a pipeline of future leaders and drive long-term success. For Victoria, mentorship is a gamechanger.

“Mentorship is the secret ingredient to kickstarting your career and your success,” she says. “Get all the support you can, build that support structure with people who have your back, who can help you when it's hard, who can help celebrate you when it's going amazingly, and keep you grounded everywhere in between.”

Shelmina Babai Abji, author of “Show Your Worth”, Seattle, Washington, USA, also stressed the importance of seeking the right mentor.

“You have to be very intentional and strategic about who you want as a mentor,” she explains. “You must understand who you are and where you are. Who do you want to become? Where do you want to go? Your current state, your desired state, and then identify which people will accelerate your journey and your success towards your desired outcome. This is all in your hands. You can't wait for someone to come and say, ‘hey, let me be your mentor. Let me help you.’ You need to own this.”


5. Celebrate and recognize achievements.

Recognizing and celebrating achievements is essential for fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging. Doing so can validate team members and encourage a culture of accountability. By celebrating diversity and inclusion, project teams can build camaraderie and morale, ultimately driving project success.

“Be very intentional about why you are celebrating,” says Dr. Luthra. “Explain that you’re celebrating this because you’ve noticed these behaviors and these behaviors have resulted in these outcomes. Really focus on the behaviors, because then you’re sending a message to everyone saying these are the behaviors that you value, and these are the outcomes that you can be proud of because it's helped us to make better decisions. It's helped us to be more innovative and creative when we're approaching a particular issue or solving a particular problem, and those are things that I think people remember more than anything else.”

Let’s inspire inclusion.

Inclusion isn't just a buzzword—it's a critical component of project success and a step towards narrowing the gender gap.

“As a female leader, the best thing you can possibly do is put out your hand out and bring everybody up with you,” says Sarah. “Nurture the young women around you and those who've struggled to have a voice in conversations and make space for them.”


By promoting diversity, fostering open communication, embracing feedback, supporting mentorship, and celebrating achievements, project managers can help their teams thrive while supporting inclusive practices. As we commemorate International Women's Day, let's commit to inspiring inclusion together.


Project Management Institute
Author | PMI

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