Women are a Powerful Force in Project Management; but They Often Don't Get the Same Opportunities—or Pay—as Men
BY TEGAN JONES
ILLUSTRATION BY KOTRYNA ZUKAUSKAITE
The battle for women's rights has been fought for centuries.
But it's taking on an extraordinary and undeniable urgency, with demands for gender equality rising to a roar heard around the world. This isn't some fleeting moment. Women—including those in project management—are rising up, refusing to let the issue continue to be swept under the rug. In January, millions of people took to the streets in women's marches on most continents, from Sydney, Australia to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Washington, D.C., USA.
There's plenty to protest. The latest United Nations report tracking gender equality goals outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was brutally honest: “Progress for women and girls remains unacceptably slow,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women executive director. And that's putting the future of gender parity at risk. “New data and analysis underlines that, unless progress on gender equality is significantly accelerated, the global community will not be able to keep its promise.”
“When women don't see a lot of women in decision-making roles, they don't feel they have the support network to grow.”
—Amah N. Binde, PMP, Baltimore City Department of Transportation, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Every culture has its own idea about the type of work that women should do. Some say there's little difference between the jobs appropriate for different genders. Others still believe women shouldn't work at all. But gender norms around the world are shifting dramatically, with the potential to usher in an age of much greater economic equality. Even Saudi Arabia, once an unwavering bastion of male domination, announced women will soon be able to drive and that as of February they can start their own businesses.
The definition of “women's work” is now broad enough to include almost any job imaginable. And project management is no exception.
Women are now a fixture in the profession. Yet, as in many other fields, disparities persist. There's an approximately US$11,000 gap between average male and female project manager salaries in the United States, according to the latest edition of PMI's Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey. China follows a similar pattern: CNY220,036 for men versus CNY193,502 for women, on average.
It's not just pay. Male-dominated org charts tend to replicate themselves, which means women miss out on high-profile projects or get passed over to head up the project management office (PMO). It's that organizational infrastructure that leads to lower wages.
PM Network interviewed four project professionals (three women and one man) on the state of women in project management and how individuals and organizations can do their part to increase gender parity:
Amah N. Binde, PMP, chief project officer, Baltimore City Department of Transportation, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
Jaspreet Dol, CAPM, project manager, E-Bureauet, a digital consultancy in Luzon, the Philippines
Rob Van Duijl, nuclear build PMO director at utility company EDF, London, England
Nadia Krys, PMP, senior project manager, public transit agency TransLink, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Do women have equal opportunities in the project management world?
Ms. Binde: The architectural and engineering industry is a really white, male-dominated industry. In the 15 years I've been in the industry, I haven't seen tremendous change. You see more women in meetings and invited to the table. But as far as an increased number of women being promoted and rising to leadership positions, there's still a lot of room for improvement.
When women don't see a lot of women in decision-making roles, they don't feel they have the support network to grow. They get discouraged and they burn out.
Ms. Dol: My company has a preference for software developers being men and project managers being women. People at my company say that women have more attention to details and are more results-driven than men. When it comes to salaries, though, I think they might be offering a bit less to women because women usually don't try to negotiate a lot. Men tend to negotiate for something higher than the initial offer.
“Organizations should set objectives for creating gender parity in the workforce, measure progress proactively and intervene when there are imbalances.”
—Rob Van Duijl, EDF, London, England
Mr. Van Duijl: It's gotten better. There's a real drive in the United Kingdom to get women into site work. That's still a bit of a male-dominated world. But on the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station my company is building, there are a lot of women in leadership roles on-site. It's a very good thing.
Ms. Krys: Looking around at my colleagues, I wouldn't say gender equality is there. Out of our group of roughly 25 staff project managers at the transit authority, just three are female.
What's been your biggest career challenge in terms of gender? And how did you overcome it?
Ms. Binde: One thing I learned very early is that a man can be given an opportunity based on his credentials and experience alone. A woman very often will have to be literally acting in a job—proving that she can do it—before she's offered the opportunity. Understanding that from the beginning can really ease someone's career path. You don't dwell so much on the why. You focus more on the what.
Ms. Krys: It's not a career trajectory type of an issue. It's more just on a daily basis, as a project manager or as an engineer, walking into a room full of colleagues and wanting to be taken as seriously as I would be taken if I were male. The fact that I have to spend a lot more time and effort earning my reputation is something I've gotten used to. But it feels like an unfair challenge every time.
I try my best to seize the most interesting project opportunities out there, including the ones that upper management really wants implemented correctly. In those projects you have more interaction with senior staff. If you're able to deliver well, you earn your stripes faster.
“The fact that I have to spend a lot more time and effort earning my reputation is something I've gotten used to. But it feels like an unfair challenge.”
—Nadia Krys, PMP, TransLink, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
How can organizations drive gender equality?
Ms. Binde: Attracting women to project management is not an issue. It's really about retaining women. Organizations need to understand it's about recognizing women and giving them the resources they need to do the job based on the complexity of the project. And it's about empowering them to make decisions.
Mr. Van Duijl: As part of my recruitment and hiring process, I look beyond technical knowledge by testing for emotional knowledge and control. There you see a big difference between males and females. We have it on paper—women outperform men in this area.
Ms. Krys: What you need is a strong sponsor who will have your back and allow you to flourish. Men tend to gain opportunities more easily by just hanging out together. If a woman is able to find a good sponsor—whether it's a senior male or a senior female—it can level the playing field.
Companies should develop formal programs and assign new team members either a mentor or a sponsor.
How does seeing women in leadership roles help other women in the profession?
Ms. Binde: You can learn from everyone, but it's easier to duplicate behavior that you see work well when it's somebody who looks like you. As a female, if you only have male bosses, it's difficult for you to imitate their behaviors because you know that what is acceptable for men would not necessarily be acceptable for women.
“I focus on advocating for women, ensuring women's accomplishments are heard and—most importantly—helping remove hurdles that may stand in the way of a promotion.”
—Amah N. Binde, PMP
Ms. Krys: My last firm promoted one of the women who was a senior project manager into a key client manager role. I'd never seen that before. The fact that the company didn't just talk the talk and actually promoted women into leadership roles was really encouraging.
“Don't lose hope. You have to just improve yourself. Never stop learning.”
—Jaspreet Dol, CAPM, E-Bureauet, Luzon, the Philippines
How do you try to advance gender equality at your organization?
Ms. Binde: Women tend not to self-promote. As a result, they're overlooked when opportunities arise. I focus on advocating for women, ensuring women's accomplishments are heard and—most importantly—helping remove hurdles that may stand in the way of a promotion.
Ms. Krys: I try my best to work diligently to complete my assignments as any of my colleagues would. I try to work around gender stereotypes and prejudices. It helps that my current organization is much more gender-diverse than firms I used to work at.
What's your advice for women considering a career in project management?
Ms. Binde: Don't dwell so much on your weaknesses. Focus on your strengths. This is how you're going to be able to have a seat at the table—becoming extremely good at what you do.
Ms. Dol: Don't lose hope. You have to just improve yourself. Never stop learning.
Ms. Krys: Get to know your organization really well. Figure out the key players who make decisions and find yourself a strong sponsor who will help you navigate some of the tougher situations you may find yourself in.
What's the most important thing an organization should do to close gender gaps within its workforce?
Ms. Krys: Urge women to lead by example. Organizations should encourage younger women and prospective female leaders to go after and compete for senior roles.
Mr. Van Duijl: Organizations should set objectives for creating gender parity in the workforce, measure progress proactively and intervene when there are imbalances. To reduce pay gaps, remuneration should be tied to proven skills that meet a job requirement. A transparent career advancement program is part of that.
Ms. Binde: Building awareness around the gender gap is a first step. Organizations are just too silent around the issue. Acknowledge the gap and discuss it—this can only help solve this issue. PM
What advice would you give to women considering a career in project management
“Be yourself. Don't let your gender define you, listen to your intuition and be authentic. Consider studying for and obtaining a professional qualification such as the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® or Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification as soon as possible.”
—Eigen Halpin, PMP, PgMP, PMO manager, Cisco, Newport, Wales
“No matter how hard you work, as a woman you will always be expected to work harder to prove yourself. If women support each other more in the workplace, perhaps our hurdles would be centered around the work more than our gender.”
—Paige Barnes, PMP, senior IT project manager, American Medical Association, Chicago, Illinois, USA
“If you want to succeed and think you have found your career path, nobody can stop you.”
—Carmen Iatan, PMP, senior project manager, DXC Technology, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
“Leave a legacy upon completion of a project. Through this, projects will find you.”
—Marna Schoeman, PMP, strategic program manager, office of the COO in finance, Barclays Africa Group, Johannesburg, South Africa
What advice would you give to women considering a career in project management?
“Plan family needs as part of the overall project needs. Plan, manage and communicate to all the stakeholders, including family members.”
—Kim Ling Chan, PMP, PgMP, CIO, Fusheng Industrial Co., Taipei City, Taiwan
“Master project management technical capabilities, understand the business strategy of the place where you are, and develop leadership skills—which can build influence, respect and trust.”
—Eunice Durán, PMP, PgMP, PfMP, technical consultant, PMO, Central Bank of the Dominican Republic, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Shattering the Ceiling? Not Quite
Despite all the corporate talk of promoting gender parity, true progress remains elusive.
Source: Women in the Workplace 2017, McKinsey
Gender equality is backsliding. At this rate, women might have to wait centuries to gain equal footing.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) predicts it will take decades to achieve global gender parity across four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. And the timeline keeps getting longer:
The size of the economic participation and opportunity gap is particularly troubling. Just 58 percent of the economic gap has been closed—the lowest value measured by the WEF since 2008.
Only 13 countries have closed at least 80 percent of the economic participation and opportunity gap between men and women:
Some of the world's largest economies are still struggling to reach that threshold:
Source: The Global Gender Gap Report, World Economic Forum, 2017
A Woman's Place Is in Project Management
Gender pay gaps exist among project managers in most countries. Here's a sampling of the gap between average male and female project manager salaries by country:
Sources: Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey, 10th Edition, PMI, 2017