International Womens Day

It's been more than 100 years since the first International Women's Day. While much progress has been achieved in that time, true gender equality remains beyond our grasp. Brantlee Underhill reflects on this year's commemoration and what we all can do to advance the cause of women's equality in the project management world.

Written by Brantlee Underhill | PMI • 7 June 2022

A Call to Action on International Womens Day
Image by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

March 8th is International Women’s Day (IWD)—a day when we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. But IWD is also a day for activism—when we seek to raise awareness of the issue of women’s equality and to advocate for greater gender parity.

It’s appropriate therefore to examine the state of gender equality in our corner of the world—the project management community—and to consider ways we can collectively and individually advance this cause. The project management field has been my home for more than 20 years now, and I’m committed to ensuring that women of all ages, backgrounds and outlooks can thrive here—both personally and professionally.

That task, however, has grown more difficult in the era of COVID-19. The National Women’s Law Center reports that there were 2.3 million fewer women in the U.S. labor force in February 2021 than in February 2020. In just one month—September 2020—women left the workforce at four times the rate of men—largely because of the demands of child/elder care and of homeschooling.

Participation rates have improved somewhat since then with female labor participation at 56.8 percent in January 2022. That’s up from 54.6 percent in April 2020 but still down from the pre-pandemic level of 57.8 percent in January 2020. And it’s far below the participation rate of men, which was 67.9 percent in January 2022.

Tracking progress in the project management field, however, can be challenging. There aren’t a lot of hard statistics on the number of female project professionals. For some years, the common understanding has been that women make up roughly 20-30 percent of our profession. PMI’s membership data, however, are somewhat more positive. Roughly 40 percent of PMI members in 2020 were female, up from 28 percent in 2005.

Pay parity, however, is still lagging. A recent paper on the salaries of multi-national female PMPs reports that the pay gap among women project professionals is narrower than national gender wage gaps. That’s the good news. The less than good news is that women still earn only $89 for every $100 earned by male project professionals.

I’m hopeful that will change in the years ahead. PMI’s recent Talent Gap report suggests that the global economy will need 25 million new project professionals by 2030. To keep up with demand, 2.3 million people will need to enter project management-oriented employment every year between now and then. A significant portion of them could and should be women.

As a community, we need to support and strengthen our organizations’ DE&I programs to help make that aspiration a reality. As women, we can also take steps to break down the barriers to our full participation in the project management field. Here are a few suggestions:

Exercise those power skills

Over the past few years, we’ve grown to understand the importance of power skills in project management. Many of those skills—empathy, communication, an innovative mindset and collaborative leadership—come naturally to women and can help ensure the success of our projects. Perhaps more important, they can help us navigate challenging social and professional situations and aid us in balancing the many demands of the workplace and home life.

Upskill, upskill, upskill

No one can rest on their laurels these days—least of all women. It’s essential that we adopt a commitment to life-long learning and assertively pursue opportunities to build our skillset. PMI can help—with many new certifications and micro-credentials beyond the PMP. You can deepen your expertise in agile methodologies, break into the world of Citizen development and Wicked Problem Solving, or take on organizational transformations. We’re also developing industry-specific certifications so you can strengthen your skills in a particular field.

Build and strengthen networks

Relationships matter in all professions, and when women nurture healthy and productive relationships, their status in the workplace earns greater respect. Established female professionals can connect with and mentor aspiring women project professionals, helping them to expand their own networks as they rise to greater recognition. Those new to the field can seek out female professionals you admire at work or through your local PMI chapter. Let’s foster these networks of mutual support; the guidance, advice and encouragement we receive from one another can make all the difference.

Forget balance – seek fulfillment

It’s time to think less about a binary work-life balance and to focus more on work-life fulfillment. “Career” and “family” should no longer be conflicting goals. We can have both—if we set and heed appropriate boundaries and if we dedicate sufficient time to regular self-care—both mental and physical.

Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever wrote in Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, “Allowing women to advance into positions of greater power and influence has the potential not just to improve women’s lives but to increase the fund of human knowledge, change what we know about ourselves as a species, and in some cases save thousands of lives.”

To all who celebrate, I wish you a Happy International Women’s Day. May it be a day for reenergizing our personal and professional lives and for advancing the cause of women’s equality around the world.

Brantlee Underhill headshot

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

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