Project Management Institute

The upper hand

Women in management bring their own competitive advantages to business worldwide. Five managers offer their take on women and business success.



Elizabeth Pollitzer, Founder, ITsynergy, London, U.K.



Companies must take a proactive stance against gender bias. The recently published European Technology Assessment Network (ETAN) report on Women and Science [Science Policies in the European Union: Promoting excellence through mainstreaming gender equality] has produced a huge amount of evidence showing plainly that inherent masculine bias dominates education and research on many levels and in many forms. There is no doubt that the same exists in business. Otherwise, the issues of “glass ceilings” and unequal pay rates would not exist.

I have experienced gender bias in my own information technology (IT) business. When there are problems with a supplier or customer, and I feel that I am being [ignored], I ask my husband to call them on behalf of my company. It is amazing how different the response to a male voice is. This has now happened four or five times. The sad thing is, both women and men seem to respond more quickly and positively in these circumstances when they hear a male voice.

Overall, women are more ready to adapt in their roles and responsibilities, without making a fuss. It is the good of the project that is paramount, not individual ambitions. A woman's ability to lead a project team probably will depend how well the team knows each other and how much trust they have in each other's capabilities. Unless there are good reasons to have only a female or only a male team, reasonable gender equality on the team would be best for both sides.

Clearly, in certain situations, such as in Japan or Saudi Arabia, it would only be prudent for a company to opt for a male project leader, but elsewhere there is plenty of scope to promote capable females as project leaders.

The world, even the West, is certainly not enlightened yet on gender issues, otherwise, this would not need to be an issue. As an example, Andrew Gould, chairman and CEO of Schlumberger Ltd., would not be presenting the CEO-Position Paper [to promote women in technology and science] at a European Union conference, with some very large companies signing up to follow his five key actions. [Read the position paper at]

As someone has remarked on the BBC Today program, the recruitment process for executive directors is done on the golf course. And we know that the recruitment process for nonexecutive directors is done through headhunters. In both cases, the pool from which candidates are selected is rather exclusive, small and predominantly male. Many women choose human resources (HR) as the way to succeed in an organizational hierarchy, but very few companies include an HR director on the board.

Headhunters should be made aware of the many capable and talented women whose experience is sufficient for the role of a nonexecutive director. For executives, companies need to open their eyes and ask themselves if the promotion and reward process is applied fairly. Companies stand to gain a loyal workforce, better retention and better return rates.

Why should women pursue these opportunities, which may represent a more difficult career path? Many women must be asking themselves this and are voting with their feet by not choosing to work in such environments or leaving at the earliest opportunity, even if this means a less successful or even less rewarding career—but also less hustle. The best career advice I ever received on climbing the management ladder? Start your own business.

Jan Wells, PMP, Director of Program Management, GMP Companies Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., USA


Hopefully you have policies and procedures in place to prevent gender bias from happening. From what I've seen, companies are actively trying to deal with gender issues through education. Globally, people are more sensitive than they were 10 to 20 years ago. More women are deferring children, and they are in the workplace and not willing to put up with gender bias. Companies are recognizing that a large part of their business depends on women as consumers and workers. If they are going to build a strong company, that needs to be part of their corporate values.

I've had co-workers come to me many times about gender bias. I'm pretty bull-headed and thick-skinned when it comes to these issues, but when other people are impacted and come to me with concerns, I tell them they need to indicate this is unacceptable and work through the proper channels—performance reviews or human resources. You need to speak up and say something, not just take it. Executives need to foster an environment of integrity and trust, so people feel comfortable to come forward. If your corporate culture condones that type of behavior—if you're rewarded or not punished for that behavior—it will continue.

I hate to stereotype, but a good project manager has a solid skill base, and my bias is that I think women have more of the people skills project managers need. Women in general tend to be more collaborative, but I know men who do the same. To me, it's not men or women; it's how a good project manager leads high-performance teams. You need to be a good coach and mentor.

Because of our historical role as mothers and caregivers, women do seem to have the “superwoman who does everything” attitude. They are predisposed to project management. They go in and get it done. Women are more relationship-centered, and that means good team-building.

On one hand, I know that teams respond differently. But is it male versus female, communication styles, collaboration versus cut to the chase, or what? From what I've seen in performance, women tend to be more systems thinkers and make connections based on project information, tying pieces of the project together versus men, who tend to manage more in buckets without linking them.

Many cultures don't view women as professionals, and we need to be sensitive to that. I did some work in Korea and expected to be treated poorly, but when I went there, I found I wasn't treated that way at all. My Korean colleagues told me that it was because I was an American woman. Overall, the world is adapting. I know many women who have been successful in South America and Asia. There are loads of issues on projects that are far more critical to your project than any gender bias, and any good project manager is going to overcome those. In the virtual world, gender bias is lessening because you don't have as much face-to-face contact.

In general, people tend to surround themselves with people they feel comfortable with, no matter what level they are. You hire people who are similar to yourself, and it's hard to get out of that mold. As long as many executives are male, that's whom they're going to feel comfortable with. It's going to be tough for women to get there. Once you get to be king of the hill, you don't want anybody knocking you off. You need a very enlightened company.

Women are more accustomed to working behind the scenes without recognition. While they may be excellent project managers, they often are more focused on recognition for the entire team, rather than only themselves. It's very difficult for women project managers to rise up, because companies are not ready to elevate the profession and also may not recognize the contributions of the project manager.

Diversity in the team brings in different ideas. If you surround yourself with like-minded people, you don't necessarily get the best outcome. The competition will pass you by. Many times, I will be in meetings where I'm the only woman, but I'm not there as the token woman. I bring value to the meeting. I provide input and solutions.


No doubt women face additional hurdles. I have never heard of additional bias for men, but it is common for women to face discrimination. In Brazil, it is difficult to find women as presidents, chief executive officers or directors, and women's salaries are less than men's for the same positions and responsibilities. Ethos Institute recently studied the 500 biggest companies in Brazil, with data showing that even though women are studying more than men and comprise a huge number of the work force, they have fewer opportunities to develop their careers. According to the research, in those companies, women are 35 percent of employees; 18 percent of management positions are held by women, and just nine percent of those women are in executive positions. Companies must play an important role and have the responsibility to support and enhance diversity across the organization.

However, because most organizations have been established by men and are directed primarily by men, the prevailing organizational culture is more aligned with men's styles and approaches. Women must not act like men, but we must learn the rules of the power games and develop strong political and negotiation skills. It is also important to be assertive and enhance communication.

Cultural barriers take a long time to be removed or at least reduced. It is happening progressively and naturally, as a result of the pioneering, hard work of women and in part due to government and corporate programs that make the work environment more just with more policies and practices focused on equity.

Margareth Fabíola dos Santos Carneiro, PMP,

International Director, PMI Government Specific Interest Group, CEO of PMA—Professional Management, Brasilia, Brazil

Brenda Treasure, President, PMI Melbourne Chapter;

Communications Director, Women in Project Management Specific Interest Group; and Founder, Brenda Hogan Executive Services Pty. Ltd., Wyndham Vale, Australia


Gender issues should be addressed proactively. However, the majority of senior management is male and does not feel that there is an issue.

I was appointed as a senior project manager for a government organization on a large, critical, political and legal project and was appointed because of my qualifications and credibility. My manager of professional services and chief information officer were male and appointed people who were the best for the job. There were a number of male project managers in the professional services team, and when we would meet weekly to discuss projects, they would just brush over their projects. However, I felt as a female and head of the largest-profile project, I needed to give an in-depth account and review. My philosophy was to be open and honest—do not hide any-thing—as this would damage credibility. Other projects failed because of their lack of communication and openness.

As a female in a predominantly male career—and I know other females feel the same—we need to be more on the ball, communicate more effectively, be more energetic and be proactively aware of issues. To cut it short, we need to work hard to be recognized and accepted.

Women are far more open with communication and are far better organizers. For instance, we can chair a meeting and control the meeting with input, as well as note what we are having for dinner, what to do on the way home and what is planned for the rest of the week.

I have appointed and managed a team with all males, and we worked well together as a team, and then I have been placed in teams that were appointed for me, and these teams don't work as well—I think this is the real issue of project failure. We all appoint members who we know can achieve the job and whom we work well with. I personally work better with all-male teams I appoint. I know exactly what I want and ask the appropriate questions, and if they share their knowledge and experience and can communicate, I appoint them. Women have great intuition!

Global projects have their own hurdles, and, yes, women's issues are just another, but not the sole hurdle. We all experience cultural and language hurdles when involved in a global project. I have experienced considerable hurdles in some of the Asian countries; however, my projects have had a link with open cultures and therefore, I have to be accepted for my merits. But I still need to work and achieve much more than my male counterparts.

The world has not accepted that women are every bit as valuable and equal as men, but some countries have. A lot of these chauvinistic attributes came from our forefathers and have come down the line from ancestors. In another couple of generations, the attitude will be even less. As strong businesswomen, we will bring up girls to be strong and independent—not to serve men, but to work with them. I am married, and we work well together as a team in our business.

Ultimately, women should be appointed for their merits, and gender should not be an issue. Organizations should look for the quality and expertise of the candidate. In today's world, we all must take steps to inspire our career and personal growth to be more informed and better than our male counterparts. We need to prove our expertise and ourselves all the time, and we need to work harder than men.

Ruth Sacks, Director, SjS Consulting Ltd., Yorkshire, U.K.

I have not encountered gender bias in recent years—or at least I'm not aware of it. Those people with whom I work talk of team members in terms of their skills and abilities, rather than their gender. Skills and competence now are more valuable and relevant.

I think there are many organizations that are not enlightened. A company that employs only men in global management roles loses credibility with its staff and could lose long-term recruitment opportunities. Women are very good networkers, and those companies that do not support women staff eventually become known.

A lot depends on the company, its culture and the individuals who are employed. But if a firm is not enlightened about the contribution that women can make, it won't be enlightened about many other things and won't survive in the long term.


Women are more able to balance priorities and numerous tasks simultaneously. Women also seem to have better—and fairer—political and negotiating skills. They are good at seeing the different perspectives of situations and problems and addressing the needs of individuals as well as groups. Males and females do interact differently in teams, and all individuals have their own personal impact on others.

Women sometimes do not recognize their skills, competencies and abilities to achieve and succeed where they want to. When they value their own strength, they will have the strength to keep knocking on the doors and battering walls and ceilings to get the jobs they aspire to. Women need to network, develop themselves and promote their skills and abilities. Find mentors and role models, go for promotions and aim for the challenging jobs.

If male-dominated industries don't seek out women, will they be able to sustain their workforce with a totally male environment? The generations that are moving into the workplace do not see gender as an issue in the same ways that their grandparents did. If companies do not recognize this, they will lose male candidates who might not want to work in such a different environment.

In IT in the U.K., there are many women project managers. Construction is improving. Women are better at certain aspects of work than men. Generally, most of the male project managers I work with have respect for women and recognize how the synergy of skills and abilities rather than the gender mix is what makes for a successful project.

To participate in an online discussion on women in management with your colleagues, visit and go to the PMI Member Community.

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