The Impact of Local Culture and Psycho-Demography on the Career
Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV-EBAPE)
Given the increasing structuring of permanent organizations within temporary organizations, here represented as projects, there is a proportional demand for qualified professionals to conduct this business: the project managers. This paper aims to study how different psycho-demographic traits, i. e., demographic and psychological variables such as gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation among others, may influence the activities and progression of the project managers who possess them. In the search for possible answers, we went through many published studies on this matter, looking for the support needed by project managers in order to perform activities within the project and advance their careers. Soft skills proved to be crucial abilities needed by project managers. Moreover, career progress has been perceived by either the growing complexity of the projects they lead, or also by taking a more strategic and less operational career path. This research was based upon the Brazilian culture, which was used as a framework to understand how these professionals perform the soft skills with their project stakeholders. On such a basis, we seek to understand potential biases and barriers for the different traits and observe which impacts might have been perceived by the project managers. After conducting interviews with various project managers and scrutinizing the results using discourse analysis, it was possible to infer that soft skills are influenced by the national culture, i.e. by a collective programming of the mind distinguishing the members of different groups and societies The existence of glass doors and ceilings was perceived, as a metaphor for the invisible barriers that limit a project manager to act in this career. These professionals seem to carry out their functions with a cost greater than the one required by their male, white, and heterosexual peers, as they need to prove resilient to such domination.
Keywords: temporary organizations; culture, diversity; barriers.
Academic literature supports a significant influence of local social culture on the culture of permanent organizations (Hofstede, 2001; Schein, 1987). In this context, much has been studied about the impact of diversity issues relating to professionals that are part of groups and teams within organizations. The way that each culture addresses discrimination and prejudice that arises from different psycho-demographic traits, in certain contexts, incurs a greater cost for professionals with a certain set of traits and impinges on their ability to perform their duties. In other contexts, the culture imposes invisible barriers to entry or progression named glass doors and glass ceilings, respectively.
There is evidence that companies have been running education programs focused on diversity, which require ever-growing investments (Cañas & Sondak, 2011). The perceived need for such programs indicates that the psycho-demographics of some individuals still relegates them to a second-place position—or even no position at all—depending on the culture traits they are immersed in.
We have also noticed that permanent organizations are functionally restructuring themselves into temporary organizations, in order to better achieve strategic and economic goals (Collins & Porras, 1994; Turner & Müller, 2003). A temporary organization aims to form a team of qualified professionals in order to achieve a never attained goal in a given time frame, and then dissolve. Therefore, it is possible to understand a project as a temporary organization (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995; PMI, 2013; Votano, Parham, & Hall, 2012).
Such structures, however, are not loose on the management work field; they permeate the intermediate lines of the permanent organizations, inheriting their governance mechanisms and human resources (APM, 2012; Müller, 2009; PMI, 2013).
Nevertheless, if the local culture influences the culture of permanent organizations, it is expected that such action is also consequently extended to the temporary organizations, or, in the context of this article, to the projects.
This research is relevant given that project management is being developed as an area of economic importance, and therefore occupies a solid place in the academic discipline focused on management studies (Turner, Anbari, & Bredillet, 2013). The admission of the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM) into the Social Sciences Citation Index (SSCI) has been cited as evidence to support the inclusion of project management as a field of academic endeavor. Due to continuous advances in project management, it has been possible to confirm that organizations embrace cultural, structural, policy, and management changes to support such a working style (Donato, Kubo, & Domingues, 2012).
We start from the assumption that the efficiency and effectiveness of project managers lies in their expertise, i.e., their ability to plan, monitor, manage, and lead a project (Crawford & Pollack, 2004). However, the excellence of a project manager also lies in the so-called soft skills (Muzio, Fisher, Thomas, & Peters, 2007). These skills cover aspects such as leadership, teamwork, negotiation, conflict management, and communication; concepts that are socially constructed (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) and are shaped in different ways, depending on the local culture.
As such, the project manager may be regarded as the professional from whom maximum effectiveness and efficiency within the project is demanded. The professional who will lead the project toward its goals, all in compliance with deadlines, scopes, and pre-established budgets, addressing alternatives, weighing, and measuring risks in order to decide whether to accept, avoid, remove, or mitigate them (Baca, 2007; Di Vicenzo, 2006; Dunn, 2001).
The question comes in the midst of this discussion: how the different psycho-demographic traits can impact the professional life and career of project managers, in the perception of these professionals?
To answer this question, we have conducted empirical research in companies in Brazil, having as background the local culture of the country. The main goal was to understand the role of psycho-demography for the project managers who display said traits, in relation to the prejudice and discrimination that might prevent them from performing their managerial activities, or even ascend in their careers.
This study was limited within the Brazilian local culture and the minimum proficiency required from a project manager to perform professional activities. To achieve that, we have approached professionals who held the knowledge, maintained autonomy, and adhered to the standards of their chosen profession, as well as professionals who were commitment in relation to their work and held some identification towards their profession and their colleagues (Dwivedula & Bredillet, 2010). We have limited the research field only to individuals who, 1) were certified by Project Management Institute, Association of Project Management, or International Project Management Association or had an academic background in project management at the post-graduate level, and 2) worked in medium to large companies based in Brazil, acting nationwide in service delivery through the implementation of projects in different sectors of the economy.
The observed psycho-demographic traits have been limited, as well. The results that arose from our interaction with the field, through live interviews, have served as a beacon to the most important traits, which are, at this point, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.
This article is structured in five sections, including this one, in which we have characterized the problem itself. Then, we present the theoretical framework, the methodological strategy and, finally, the field results and conclusions.
We must have defined a theoretical basis to support the idea that the cultures of an individual and of the organization bring a heavy load of components from the social environment in which they operate. Consequently, it is necessary to understand how cultural issues have established the behavioral relationship between the project manager and the stakeholders.
Culture is a construct that invokes plenty of meanings. It can be defined as that which is lived in everyday life, its multiple interpretations, and ways to play them, according to the meanings of life, death, and the universe (Geertz, 2000). This constitutes a symbolic system, collectively shared and experienced. Tenkasi (2000) argues that individual and social knowledge are created by judgments of the reality that are social and temporarily established, which is asserted by Schein (1987), who concludes that the values we bring to our daily lives come from basic assumptions, visible artifacts, and other symbolic sets. As a result, organizations are sustained over such values and culture, resulting in social subcultures. Actually, culture is a collective complex made up of mental representations that link material, infrastructure, and superstructures (Aktouf, 1994).
As an outcome of his seminal work, first published in 1981, Hofstede (2001) proposes that culture is the result of a mental programming individuals undergo throughout their lives. Such mental programming can be found in universal, individual, and collective levels. The first is genetically inherited; the second assumes that only a portion is genetically inherited and the rest learned; and the third marks the culture as a product of what is learned in the social environment.
Asserted by Hofstede (2001), social systems may exist due to the non-random, even predictive quality of human behavior. It is this predictive component that makes up the mental program, and the results lead us to a minimum knowledge of what to expect in terms of behavior of that individual in similar situations. Accordingly, the greater the knowledge of someone's mental programming, the more accurate the prediction of their behavior will be in a given circumstance. Knowing these mental programs is the key to knowing the culture that arises from them.
Applied to hundreds of countries, Hofstede's research aimed to seek a general and common code to explain the culture of a nation. In the Brazilian case, it delivers an analysis with foreign eyes, supposedly unbiased, of how the local culture is perceived in some of its dimensions.
As to local Brazilian culture, Hofstede (2013) has summarized the following:
- Regard to the hierarchy
- Acceptance of inequalities
- Responsibility in the hands of those in power
- Importance of status symbols of power
- Guidance to groups to which one belongs
- Groups protect their members
- Members are loyal to their groups
- Guidance for personal long-term relationships and trust
- Uncertainties are avoided
- High demonstration of affection
Within such a cultural context, according to Tanure (2009), aspects related to the softest skills would be influenced by local culture, while those related to hard skills would not. The arguments are aligned with Hofstede's, for both authors infer that the Brazilian citizens actually distinguish themselves from each other through hierarchy and personal relationships, leaving out all those who are isolated and do not cultivate the community associations, which, in turn, are considered heterogeneous, uneven, relational and inclusive. It is these characteristics that make the Brazilian culture egocentric, since the reference to the decisions arises from the importance given to the need of the people involved with problems, as opposed to the needs of the system that originates them.
Tanure (2009) has also stated that there are three pillars of the Brazilian culture interacting with organizations: power, relations, and flexibility. The one who holds the power is still recognized as one who should provide the decisions. It is assumed that the recognition of this figure by the team is mandatory in order to keep the engine running. Over this fact lies the relational nature, where reviews informed by friendship partiality stifle the professional nature of a decision. In another pertinent view to this research, belonging to a group and creating such relationships of affection and friendship are points relevant to management. Finally, flexibility arises as the pillar that allows the inequality to be tolerated. For Tanure (2009), Brazilians are masters in art of living with opposites. According to Caldas (2009), Brazilian society can be defined as tolerant to such complex and ambiguous social relations, and highly personal. In Brazil, nobody wants to be like the others. The social and organizational relations are regulated not only by power, but also by deep personal ties that transcend organizational links.
Due to the ideas above, we have assumed that the cultural component that pervades Brazilian society regulates social relations as a whole, without excluding professional relationships within organizations.
Gender in Focus
In modern times, it is still possible to see the segregation by gender in the organizational culture, even after the feminist liberation witnessed in the last decades of the past century having opened the way to a better social position of women (Calás & Smircich, 1989; Cañas & Sondak, 2011; Costa & Ferreira, 2006).
Gender stereotypes still inflates differences between management performed by males and females, where the latter are subdued in relation to their management and leadership skills (Heilman, Bloci, Martell, & Simon, 1989; Martell, Parker, Emrich, & Crawford, 1998).
There are industries such as building materials, metallurgy and engineering, which tend to be masculine in their orientation (Gale & Cartwright, 1995) and thus pose a threat to the professional performance of a female project manager. Mulenburg (2002) has asserted that the project management was a field once dominated by men. So it is appropriate to investigate how the gender dimension can influence the performance of a project manager.
Although there are current examples of women in senior management positions, in private, public, and political spheres, gender inequalities in organizations are still noticeable when you actually regard occupational, salary, and career progression distance (Betiol, 2000; Blau & Kahn, 2000; Campos, Lucas, & Fischer, 2011; Freedman & Philips, 1988; Vergara, 2009).
A comparative research in gender about academic achievements, salary issues and leadership styles, conducted by (Betiol, 2000) in Brazil, found results that did not diverge from those previously reported. The results have reported that, although women do not find glass doors in the labor market and play a role of significant importance in the economy, they still face glass ceilings to progression, keeping them away from higher salaries and positions in the organizational hierarchy. Those few who reach the top ranks are still regarded as role models for their rare feat. Men more often fill these higher positions. At this point, we extrapolate the vision of Bourdieu (2001), who stated that women, excluded from power games, take part in them through the men who drive them.
There are other studies that show with precision that one of the major female anxieties regarding organizations is the impression that work prevents them from engaging in family and personal life (Campos et al., 2011).
Vergara (2009) has concluded that women are still exposed to discrimination in the social dimension and that sexism often goes unnoticed by players. Because such behavior is not always latent, it might mask itself through jokes and politically correct speech. This shows that Brazilian culture overlaps the cultures of organizations, regardless of their national origin (in the case of multinational companies). It also shows that gender prejudice is not as flexible as other psycho-demography based prejudices, such as sexual orientation and ethnicity, which attenuate when its actors are socially and economically more affluent.
Ethnicity in Focus
Sharing the nefarious history of slavery, Brazil and the USA relegated black people to lower activities. Although abolished for centuries in both countries, slavery remains alive and evident in Brazilian interracial relationships (Motta & Caldas, 2007).
The idea that Brazilian social elite describes itself as “white, western and civilized” is brought up by Costa (1994). The author goes further and discusses such elite as capable of settling for the stereotype of the “two Brazilian people.” One side, the elite, is sustained by the fiction of being European or North-American white, whereas the other is “black,” “mixed,” “uneducated,” and “bastardized.” And the fact that they live together happens by sheer luck or lack thereof. In other words, the “elite” is forced to share the same geographical space with “others”.
This thesis is presented by Soares (2000) when he introduces a report on discrimination in the Brazilian labor market. The report also shows the sometimes remarkable wage gap between white and black people.
According to the Secretariat of Strategic Affairs (SAE) of the Brazilian government, the black people comprise 51% of the population and are still characterized by great inequality (SAE, 2012). One indicator is that only 20% of black Brazilians have monthly earnings exceeding ten minimum wages and attain a postgraduate education.
Also add to this quantitative cut the research findings brought by D'Amario (2011) where, despite corporate policies of inclusion, resistance to promote black people to management positions is still noticeable. Also, glass doors are revealed in interviews, in veiled discrimination processes, according to Costa and Ferreira (2006).
Sexual Orientation in Focus
As opposed to groups whose psycho-demographic traits are stigmatized and discriminated against by physical or mental characteristics, homosexuals suffer prejudice due to the social perception of a moral conduct deviation, which could allegedly compromise their professional performance (Isay, 2010). A cultural reminder sustains the homophobia by linking it to diseases, perversion, and sin. In contrast, gays and lesbians are regarded as citizens like any other in countries with the highest human development index (Mott, 2006).
Despite a growing militancy and importance of the gay movement in the political sphere (Dantas, 2012), a recent study reported by a prestigious Brazilian newspaper reveals glass doors and ceilings for homosexuals in organizations in Brazil, regardless of their inclusion and diversity programs (Moura, 2012).
Against such conservatism, Jaime (2009) establishes that the invisibility these minorities were once subject to (including the LGBT community) ceased to exist, given the claims for their social space. This claim put the male-centered view of power in check which, according to Bourdieu (2001) is established through the direct relation to their sexuality, and it is commonly defined by their heterosexuality (Eccel & Alcadipani, 2012).
But if in such a social space gay people still strive to break free from the shackles of confinement, in organizations they find themselves in a kind of psychic prison (Morgan, 1996), which stifles and silences their real identity in their professional space. This can happen whether for survival, fear of isolation, loss of career advancement, or by intimidation or violence (Siqueira & Andrade, 2012; Siqueira & Zauli-fellows, 2006).
According to Siqueira, Saraiva, Carrieri, Andrade, (2009), gay people are to be socially tolerated due to their economic relevance or even due to their intellectual status. These few find a space rumbling with tolerance and respect. To the others, all that is left are stigmatized and frivolous professional roles, given the gross stereotyping of gay people (Saraiva, 2012). Thus, it can be inferred that there is still a cost to display such traits in organizations.
Temporary by Definition
Throughout history, organizations have been studied as permanent structures (Collins & Porras, 1994). However, the new economic and technological dynamics (increased competition, economic instability, new technologies) pressured organizations to constantly reorganize themselves (Turner & Müller, 2003), into temporary structures. These are called temporary organizations.
Temporary organizations are an important characteristic of this research, since lining off the boundaries and content of a temporary organization will also line off the field where project managers will act and, therefore, the field on which this research is grounded. Temporary organizations are incipiently postulated as arrangements planned to exist only for a time frame, and then dissolve, as the name implies.
We will regard temporary organizations as governance entities present in permanent organizations (Müller, Andersen, Sankaran, Turner, Biesenthal, Walker, & Gudergan, 2012), as projects they want to achieve, with a well-established goal to be achieved in a pre-established time frame, with finite resources (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995).
Sustained by Lundin and Söderholm (1995), there is an influence of governance structures inherited from the permanent organization by the temporary organizations that arise from them, defining the governance limits of the project (Müller, 2009; PMI, 2013; Votano et al., 2012). It is based on this statement that TOs can be regarded as entities regulated by operative ethics, brought by the governance of the organization they are part of.
Lundin and Söderholm (1995) have provided a definition of temporary organizations that has become authoritative given the frequency with which it has been referenced. Their findings state that time is a crucial matter and must define the boundaries of temporary organizations. It is the concept of a finite time that will frame a set of very limited number of defined tasks that need to be accomplished. Those tasks are then the raison d'etre for the temporary organization.
However, if actions are performed with focus on governance mechanisms, and such mechanisms are inherited from the permanent organizations they are part of, it is expected that such actions are limited and guided by the conditions of culture, ethics, and organizational norms (Brunsson, 1985; Meyer & Scott, 1992).
The team brings some important aspects to the project, for it holds the human resources with the necessary skills and determination to jointly perform the actions towards the ultimate goal of the project. Turner (2006) declared, in an editorial for the International Journal of Project Management (IJPM), that a project is defined as a temporary organization for which resources are allocated aiming to perform a job that will allow beneficial changes. This is a view that is also shared by Shenhar (2001), who defines projects as temporary organization in a permanent organization. The perception of Lundin and Söderholm (1995) demonstrates that in some industries the organization in projects is the regular working method.
Nowadays, TOs are admittedly present in different segments of the industry and various economic and social activities (janowicz, Bakker, & Kenis, 2008). They are masked under a variety of labels such as temporary systems, temporary groups, projects, and project teams. This recognition lies on the fact that this new type of organizational arrangement is fundamental to contemporary economics (Grabher, 2002; Sydow, Lindkvist, & DeFillipi, 2004).
At this point, we must better understand what and who is part of temporary organizations, and how human resources are regarded within them.
Project Managers and their Careers
The project managers are professionals who occupy the intermediate ranks of formal structures, acting as the liaison between the top management of organizations and other stakeholders of the project (PMI, 2013). They act as the chief executive of such temporary organizations (JR Turner & Müller, 2003). Such professionals have based their performances in their individual competences in project management (PMI, 2013), which are, therefore, fundamental (Flannes, 2004).
Part of the set of necessary skills for project managers is brought as behavioral skills or soft skills (Muzio et al., 2007), addressing aspects such as leadership, teamwork, conflict management, and communication. Bourne and Walker (2004) state that project managers summon their relationship skills when they exercise them over the leadership of the project stakeholders.
According to the Project Management Institute (2013), the role of the project manager is of utmost importance in the current project management model, since it is the one which governs the entire execution of the work, throughout the lifecycle of the project. These professionals play increasingly complex and comprehensive activities, with increasing empowerment. This fact allows us to regard the project manager as the protagonist of the play staged by several other actors—the stakeholders of the project—serving as a connection and support element between the scenes.
Academic literature confirms precisely such importance: the performance of a project manager is a key factor for the successful completion of a project (Codas, 1987; Gillard, 2009; Kendra & Taplin, 2004).
Since the incorporation of project management to traditional forms of departmentalization, such activity is no longer a typical midline function (Milosevic & Srivannaboon, 2006), being now closer to senior management. Studies also indicate that the nature of managing conflicts through fix deadlines, satisfying stakeholders, controlling the budget, and assuring the quality of deliverables make project managers undergo high stress levels (Richmond & Skitmore, 2006).
As for such conflicts, the theory states that the project manager must effectively build a project team by creating a professionally stimulated work environment, exercising good leadership, putting together qualified professionals and maintaining a stable work environment (Thamhain, 2003).
The job ladder serves as a metaphor to represent the career progression in different work levels within an organization. Climbing these steps requires the project managers to prove their skills, which may be perceived through the time they have been working with management, their experience with managing projects of greater value and larger staff, and other variables. The career progression can be noticed, in most cases, when the responsibility assigned to project managers increases with every new project they are assigned to (Roecker, 2007; Scott, 2011).
According to research conducted by (El-Sabaa, 2001) the skills in dealing with human aspects (soft skills) have a tremendous influence over the success of the projects, well ahead of technical skills (hard skills). Still, according to the author, the career success of project managers is supported in the diversity and multidisciplinarity of their skills.
However, there is another bias of the career progression that may be hidden by the diversity and some specific psycho-demographic traits. As already depicted above, reinforcing the observation brought by Siqueira et al. (2009), the functional and conventional organizational structure neglects the psycho-demographic differences as the employees socialize and some must omit themselves and hide in the shadow of impersonality.
When Bauman (2004) recounts his experience of expatriation from Poland to the UK, he called attention to the recognition of his identity in this new destiny. Despite being a European citizen in both of these countries, in given moments he found that he had to rebuild his identity while immersed in anew group, a new society. We then draw a parallel with the professional life of a project manager. At the end of each project and while the temporary organization dissolves and a new one is formed, the project manager's identity possibly needs to (and can) be reconstructed, the opposite of what happens with the professionals of a permanent organization. Due to the fluidity of teams and relationships, the project managers get the chance to reinvent themselves, hiding blemishes and personal characteristics formerly shunned, and improving themselves based on past experiences. On the other hand, they carry the burden of having to hide intrinsic characteristics that already have, perchance, been ineffective or problematic.
Especially when we look at professionals with different psycho-demography traits, we see that some will have the opportunity to reinvent or hide themselves in every reconstruction of temporary organizations. Women can leave their femininity aside. Homosexuals can camouflage their sexual orientation or pose a more subdued and reclusive behavior. Such experiences of feeling detached and without letting certain personal traits to be seen can bring great discomfort and disturbance to such individuals (Bauman, 2004; Foucault, 1979).
Accordingly, we cannot close our eyes in this research, to the emotional cost of the representations referred to as "facades" by Goffman (2011).The author defines them as being the expressive equipment of an unconscious or internationally standardized type, used by individuals to represent themselves to the outside world.
By changing themselves in order to suit the socially imposed identity standards, these individuals are looking for acceptance (Foucault 1979). Here, behaviors and habits of the mainstream, as well as control of their own bodies in relation to the way they speak and gesticulate, are incorporated.
In order to observe the psycho-demographic differences and the impacts they possibly have on the project manager's performance, we have considered the following traits: gender, sexual orientation, and ethnicity.
In the following sections, we present how data was collected in the field and then analyzed, explaining the methodology used to assess the experiences of the interviewed project managers.
The data used in this study were collected by interviewing the project managers of medium and large organizations in Brazil. Such companies deliver projects nationwide in different sectors of the economy and maintain a formal project management office (PMO). They also follow a methodology of a global association of project management. The field research was carried out from January to July 2013, with 18 project managers bearing different psycho-demographic traits.
The digitally recorded interviews followed a semi-structured script in blocks, in which we discussed: 1) categorical data 2) life and career 3) perception of success and advancement in the project management career 4) social relations and prejudice notions in the project management career. Table 1 shows the subjects list and their psycho-demographic profiles.
The resulting audio reports were then transcribed, resulting in a 192-page long document, which was explored in light of the discourse. This method has allowed us to merge the reports as "mosaics," where different fragments differently contributed to our understanding. Some fragments were useful for their colors, some others were used to highlight the contours of an object (Becker, 1994).
It is noteworthy that we have made use of open coding (Corbin & Strauss 1998), since the data were first segmented; the expressions were then classified by meaning units (codes) in order to associate them with concepts.
The method of discourse analysis was chosen as the most appropriate for this research, since the intention is to not only listen to the oral message, but as well as to explore the real meaning of what is being said: what one says and how it is said; what is explicit and what is implied; the language used in the discourse, and the dimensions emphasized (Putnam & Fairhusrt, 2001; Vergara, 2012).
The next section presents the findings and discussions brought by this empirical research.
|Interview #||Gender||Ethnicity||Sexual |
Table 1 – Subjects and their psycho-demographic profiles
Findings and Discussions
In this section, we aim to discuss the field findings in light of the theory presented in the theoretical framework.
The field reveals the connection between the world of temporary organizations and the universe of permanent organizations. Actually, the first is contained in the second. Speeches by project managers gave more emphasis to the governance rules of the permanent organization than to the temporary organizations themselves, in regard of the performance and progression mechanisms of said professionals. We have understood that this finding corroborated the view brought by Müller (2009), where the governance of permanent organization regulates the progress of project managers in light of the results that they bring by managing their project stakeholders and by achieving the ultimate goal of their projects. As temporary organizations, such professionals strive to achieve the objectives of the project, but this is just a way to be recognized by the permanent organization to which they belong.
Such professionals declare themselves as the articulators, such as those who manage the interests of the project stakeholders (Codas, 1987) and, therefore, need the soft skills as the main tools to perform their tasks (Bourne & Walker, 2004; El-Sabaa, 2001). The researched field supports and emphasizes the importance of such skill sets (including human resources management, communication, leadership, mentoring) as a basic tool for project development. We then expose some discourse fragments that support this perception:
I think a project manager that does not have these soft skills will not succeed. Or they will not climb the career ladder. (E09)
In projects developed in Brazil, I would say 90% of importance of having the soft skills: a relationship with people. (E11)
We have observed that the project managers should perform their duties with high professional performance in order to achieve the project objectives (Gillard, 2009; Kendra & Taplin, 2004), and also that their progression is based mainly on the successful completion of this task. This way, a feedback mechanism is formed. The project is well delivered by the good performance of its project manager. In turn, they get possibilities of progression by performing their role with distinction. Related to this mechanism, the various narratives found in the field converge with respect to progression: success of smaller projects led the project managers to get more complex, more expensive, and more strategic projects (El-Sabaa, 2001). The following discourse fragments illustrate this:
Evolving in project management is to control more complex projects, more complicated clients. And then you get very complex projects, like the Olympic games, or something. (E02)
Progression is when you start to get projects that are more strategic for the company and you get to see the actual proportions of the project. (E17)
At this point, a significant finding arises: the initial perception of progression in project management suggested that, in a given time, its path bifurcated between the execution and strategy. By ratifying the findings of El-Sabaa (2001) on bringing in multicultural and multidisciplinary aspects to increase the challenges for the project manager and reach higher steps in the career, the field has shown that there are two ways to do so: 1) the project managers can climb the career ladder by following an operational and more technocratic path at the forefront of projects, managing them and the requirements of the stakeholders and sponsors, exceling themselves and progressing by finding more challenging and complex projects; or 2) the project managers can ascend strategically to the project management office (PMO) or to other structures of the permanent organization related to the governance of projects, programs, and portfolios. Some discourse fragments reinforce these perceptions:
I think the size of the project rather determines the career development, yes. The more experienced you are, the more capable you are to be to take care of larger projects and then, maybe, you're able to take care of a program, right? Until you become a project director. (E09)
The next step, which would be 'career planning,' would be to seek a position in the project office, for instance. Not to care of one or two projects specifically, but effectively manage all project managers. (E10)
However, there are indications that the maturity and experience of the project managers weighs on their choices to follow the strategic career path. Thus, we must regard with caution the statement of Roecker (2007) and Scott (2011), generically defining the progression in the career of project managers based only upon the proportions of their projects. This actually occurs, but in our interpretation of the data, it happens more frequently among project managers with less time in the profession. We have noticed in most speeches that when a more experienced project manager collected a plural range of successful projects the strategic path was the direction to be chosen in order to find advancement in the career. By relating the subjects age profiles to their perception of progress in their careers, we have inferred that project managers over 40 years old see the compass of progression pointing towards the strategic path. The 'Y-shaped' career, for them, is no longer a reality. The operational career path, at one point, offers only repeated opportunities that go on over and over, with no chance to grow.
One way or the other, the project managers may follow either the operational or strategic career path in project management. The researched sample of project managers as a whole has experienced progress in the career. There was not even a single interview that had not mentioned such progress. Yet, that does not mean we could answer our investigative question right away. Quite the opposite. In spite of the reported progress in their careers, most PMs have also reported having to perform their duties with some personal cost, depending on their psycho-demographic traits addressed in this research. Such a finding supports closely the affirmations of Siqueira et al. (2009), Bauman (2004) and Foucault (1979), that there is prejudice and discrimination when an individual does not belong to the dominant group of players. Such a finding also supports the issue of moral violence brought by Foucault (1979). The following discourse fragment illustrates it:
If I were a man, he wouldn't do it [referring to the disrespectful attitude of a project resource towards the project manager]. (E01)
In the lexical selection of "If I were a man," in E01, the androcentric space and dominance in the organizations can be noticed. The following discourse fragments can ratify that:
I think women are still seen differently in organizations. I believe there is a tendency toward improvement, but I think today we are not perceived the same way as men. (E08)
I've already felt [prejudice] regarding gender, just for being a woman. (E13)
Being a woman: if you're the manager of a "macho" guy, it will kill you! Just because he will not accept being under a woman’s control. (E03)
"Oh! I brought here the new project manager" [a female project manager]. Then you see that the person looks at you and doesn't say a word. Then you say: -"Oops! I'll show you what I am here for!" This has happened not once or twice. I remember it happening when I was in BANK_X. There were just men around. And I was the project manager. (E06)
The extracted lexical segment "There were just men around. And I was the project manager" (E06) refers to the fact that this female project manager has not been recognized as an original member of the group of stakeholders she was inserted into, being at the mercy of an imminent acceptance by the men surrounding her.
In relation to sexual orientation, the respondents have chosen to hide both their sexuality and details of their private life in the workplace, once they have perceived hostility and prejudice. This is clear from the following discourses:
I haven't come out! [When asked about publicly disclose his homosexuality in the workplace] It’s a matter of precaution, right? (E09)
My whole family knows. [about her homosexuality], but I preserve myself at work, because I know that the environment is not propitious to disclose such information. (E12)
Such professionals impose a major barrier between their personal and professional lives in order to sustain their secret. And that is done for fear of reprimands, with personal cost and resiliency. As exposed:
I have won awards – travel prizes and everything, and I couldn't bring along the person I wanted to. I have taken a friend, a relative, but I couldn't take my girlfriend. (...) That, of course, would have affected my career. (E12)
As I have never revealed [her sexuality], I don't know where it could've taken me. But I have always had the fear that this would become a barrier. (E12)
The benefit of the doubt is an artifice used by homosexuals to not expose themselves in business. Assuming the homosexuality is a one-way route, while keeping it hidden is a strategy used to prevent prejudice.
Regarding the prejudice against ethnicity, the first perception was the absence of black people in the workplace, as suggested by the fragments of speech:
I think black people are too little noticed here at Organization_Y. (E01)
There is almost no black people in our team. We have no black people around. (E02)
This fact is justified by the glass doors imposed upon the black project managers, as seen in the following fragments:
There is no way to progress because they [black professionals] haven't even been accepted to the group. (E07)
I had a natural rejection [referring to his black ethnicity], so I tried to change it. (E16)
Still, according to the aforementioned speech of E16, the lexical segment "so I tried to change it" denotes an additional cost for this black man to overcome the imposed social barriers.
Even for those who have overcome such barriers, the prejudice was perceived. However, it was not strong enough to prevent the professional performance as a project manager, as is illustrated in the following quotes:
I've already lived situations like that. Not in a way that would affect the relationship, or the continuation, or the development of work. But, in a way, discrimination or prejudice is often very close. (E05)
The personal costs to perform the project manager function, in a higher or lower level, explicit or implicit, were found in the discourses, revealing tormentor mechanisms of domination, not often perceived even by the actors themselves. The project managers need to actually build their facades, their personal representations such as the ones proposed by Goffman (2011), in a more articulated and precise manner, given the frequent rearrangements of their stakeholders. Such facades are intentionally or unconsciously constituted as a tool, not only to establish bonds of courtesy, respect, and leadership, which are fundamental to the work of the project manager, but also to protect them against the androcentric domination.
Once again, we emphasize the reasoning that, if they need to perform their jobs proficiently to ascend in their careers, then there may be barriers to progression if these facades are stained or torn down, revealing what they do not want to show.
Extrapolating what was once described by Foucault (1979), the facades are perceived as a mimicry of these professionals with some particular psycho-demographic traits in relation to the group of the stakeholders and the groups from the permanent organization that surround these project managers; the ones they will need to interact with. Mainstream habits must be either incorporated or represented, and this was evidenced in the field.
The context in which the project managers are situated also proved relevant, according to the field research. There is the perception that the culture that permeates the social environment in which they operate, as stipulated by Hofstede (2001, 2013), has influence in the behavior of such professionals. It is exactly under this circumstance that their soft skills are put to the test.
We have found evidence that there is still prejudice promoted by a dominant group of white heterosexual males, and it is directly associated with an androcentric logic that restricts and regulates the behavior of any individual who does not naturally belong to this group. This asserts the theory that it is necessary to find mechanisms of acceptance and recognition by the dominant group, if you do not want to be marginalized and excluded by it (Hofstede, 2001, 2013). Such mechanisms of acceptance and recognition have been raised from the discourses.
Therefore the project managers, as expected of any other management professional, need to properly exercise their soft skills, where human resources management is essential to the quality of their work, performance, and career progression. Once again, we corroborate with Tanure (2009) and Caldas (2009): Brazilian cultural issues and personal relationships tend to be the most influential factors in the people management and their interests in this culture. This is where we insert the diversity issues as possible barriers.
If a project manager needs to properly manage the human resources involved in the temporary organization in order to succeed in the project and in the career, and if, to do so, this professional is influenced by the local social culture that imposes its own truths through the dominant groups, then it would be likely to professionals outside this group to find relational problems and discrimination. The diversity defined by Betiol (2000) is present and real, but the plurality of identities seems to suffer under external forces and influences that minimize it. They restrain and put the project managers under pressure to adopt a singular otherness and align and conform themselves before the dominant group. It should be accounted that these traits are not mutually exclusive. One can accumulate many traits such as a black homosexual male project manager, or even a black heterosexual female project manager.
Regarding the gender issues, the introjection of the androcentric logic by women and the glass ceilings imposed upon new mothers is notorious. Motherhood, mainly when it concerns newborns and young age kids, seems to require more responsibilities and presence of mothers than fathers. According to reports, even when the fathers are present and collaborative, women still need to absorb the androcentric logic (Campos et al., 2011; Carvalho, Carvalho, & Santos, 2002) features of a sexist and paternalistic system, as we see in Brazil. It is for the man to follow as the provider, as he is entitled to actually engage in his professional life. Meanwhile, the woman is also entitled to her career, but not before fulfilling her obligations toward family, relegating her to lower professional goals. This was confirmed among the women interviewed.
At this point, we have realized the introjection of androcentric logic as suggested by the theory. In particular, the project managers who need or wish to embrace motherhood are relegated to projects of less complexity and strategic value. As proposed by (Betiol, 2000), there are also women who want to go beyond the domestic life in their quest for female satisfaction.
On the other hand, we have also perceived explicit prejudices against working with female project managers. There were responses, including from female project managers, stating that working with women demands greater interpersonal skills due to their stereotypical characteristics: women with PMS, emotionally sensitive women,, needy women, the seductive women who dress to kill are just a few examples. Projects involving this kind of professional will demand more of the soft skills. It is up to these women once more to internalize the androcentric logic and present a facade by sticking to a sober dress code, acting strong and firm, and losing the socially defined construct of femininity.
Yet, we have seen that in some speeches the female project managers felt excluded from a space of socialization naturally filled by men. These spaces are often used to socialize with customers and project sponsors and stakeholders: for instance, having a beer with the client, or attending a soccer match and other meetings outside the work environment. Although they are a leisure activity at a first glance, they are also used to tie and narrow relationships as well as to discuss and do business.
On the other hand, we found that gender can be used as a strategy in project management. We found evidence in several reports, that female project managers can be allocated in leading projects as a tool to make amends in cases of frayed relationships with certain types of clients—those who let themselves be influenced by the female presence. It is for strategic managers to define the ideal profile of the project manager who will deal with this or that client. However, the reports were accurate in stating and exemplifying situations in which female project managers were explicitly put in charge of projects to achieve some benefits, based on their gender as a main characteristic.
Much of our sample was comprised by females, which may indicate that project management is no longer a field so dominated by men, as observed a decade ago by Mulenburg (2002). Some discourses pointed to the scarce presence of women in top executive positions, but not specifically as project managers. Whereas this may confirm the stereotype that the field still holds prejudices against women, preventing them from reaching senior management positions (Heilman et al., 1989; Martell et al., 1998), the field has also showed that female project managers who were able to fully dedicate themselves to their duties and job demands found space to reach higher hierarchical levels (Bourdieu, 2001).
Among all three psycho-demographic traits observed, gender and ethnicity were immutable and final: they cannot be hidden or disguised. The facades can mitigate these traits, but they are not thick enough to hide them. In regard to the sexual orientation, the facades can be built in a way that this trait can be hidden, demanding a very convincing representation.
The field has revealed the existence of glass doors in relation to ethnicity, as supported by Costa and Ferreira (2006) and (D’Amario, 2011). Black project managers have reported explicitly having found glass doors in their careers, mainly in job interviews. Despite of having a representative sample of black project managers in our researched field, some speeches have mentioned the low number of black professionals in project management in Brazil, as well as in many other areas that demand high qualifications, matching the indicators presented by SAE (2012). Refreshing the affirmatives of Costa (1994), the majority of qualified professionals remains white.
There is evidence that this still occurs due to the difficulty of black people to afford higher levels of education and be qualified to better jobs. In the observed sample, most black individuals had scholarships and have shown an additional effort to excel in the white cultural hegemony and emerge in the groups to which they belonged.
Unlike gender and ethnicity, sexual orientation is a trait that can be hidden in many cases, as previously stated. And this was exactly the case with all of the homosexuals in our sample. They explicitly assume the homosexuality in their personal life, for family and close friends only, but keep this treat hidden in their professional environment. Therefore, we could measure the professional consequences and impacts experienced by a homosexual project manager because the façade maintained by them , in this case, is purposely thick. Such a thick facade charges a price to be built and maintained. These individuals must segregate their personal life from their professional life, and they will not freely do so. Indeed, there is a high price to be paid. They perceive the mechanisms of coercion, such as the sexist jokes and comments, which feeds their fears of coming out to their stakeholders. The doors and glass ceilings for homosexuals, revealed by Moura (2012) and Siqueira and Zauli-fellows (2006), could not be noted explicitly, once all the interviewed homosexuals project managers have hidden their orientation. But we sense that these invisible barriers do exist. Otherwise, they would not choose to pay such a high price. We then reaffirm the portrait of the psychic prison painted by Morgan (1996); homosexual project managers apparently still need to stifle and silence their real identities in the professional space.
This research aimed to show how local culture influences the professional practice of project managers, given the importance of their soft skills. The good performance and career development of these professionals are based specially on their interpersonal skills, which may be at risk due to certain psycho-demographic traits that these professionals might have, and how these traits are absorbed by the local social culture.
The results brought here demonstrate that a project manager with a given psycho-demography is likely to suffer prejudice and discrimination. One way to overcome and find success and career advancement is by finding mechanisms to mingle with the mainstream group, at least in the Brazilian case. In most of the times, these professionals need to mimic such groups, modifying their habitus.
As a future research agenda, we propose to perform the same study in different cultures and compare the findings with the Brazilian case, as well as to expand the addressed psycho-demographic traits to others such as: physical appearance, age, and religion. We see this issue as an important opportunity to enhance the soft skills of project managers, regarding the increasing globalization and multi-cultural project teams.
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Luiz Gustavo Mauro de Queiroz, BSEE, MBA, is a Technical Project Manager and Solution Architect with 18 years of experience in multi-international projects and knowledge of four languages. He has been working for large organizations such as Digital Equipment Co., Compaq, Hewlett Packard, and Ericsson since 1996. He has been acting as a key resource in the delivery of high-budget BSS Telecommunication projects in Latin America, dealing with heterogeneous and multi-cultural teams. He holds a BSEE in electronics and a MBA from two of the most prestigious institutions in Brazil: Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and Fundação Getulio Vargas (FGV-EBAPE).
Marcos Lopez Rego, PMP, holds PhD and MSc degrees in Business Administration and Electronic Engineering from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). Currently, he is an associate teacher at EBAPE, which is part of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV). Mr. Rego is also the Academic Coordinator of the MBA in Project Management program at the IAG Business School at PUC-Rio; he has also worked in the Brazilian Navy Research Institute, where he was a project manager in the Electronic Warfare Group.
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