Leveling the Field

Women Can Follow these Tips to Thrive in Project Management


By Emily Luijbregts, PMP

The gender gap is real—from salaries to C-suite leadership. There's a wide gulf in project management pay, according to PMI's Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey 10th Edition. In each of the more than 30 countries surveyed for the 2017 report, the average salary for men is greater than the average salary for women. And in the broader business world, only 24 percent of senior roles are held by women, according to a 2018 global Grant Thornton study. What can women do to help ensure they beat these dismal odds and thrive in project management and business?

It is important to address women specifically because women and men credit their success to different things—so career advice needs to be tailored accordingly. Studies show that men tend to attribute their success to innate qualities and skills, whereas women are more likely to cite external factors, such as working hard or being lucky. Women, therefore, might need to look internally to get a handle on how to get ahead.


Here are four ways women can gain a career advantage in project management.


What makes you stand out from other project managers? Is it your attention to detail? Is it your compassion? Are you more empathetic to the team's issues? Are you always thinking five steps ahead of others? Jot down this unique attribute that sets you apart from the pack. Then list your other talents and abilities. If you're struggling with this activity, work with someone you trust to see if their outside perspective can help you pinpoint your strengths.


Women should learn how to promote and sell their abilities. Using the same list from the above exercise, note next to each attribute or skill how you could market that talent in your industry. It could look something like this:

What's my talent? How can I market myself?
➔ Long track record of successful projects ➔ Share expertise with other project managers
➔ Being able to translate technical into business “speak” ➔ Promote project successes to executives
➔ Presenting to stakeholders ➔ Present at conferences


Navigating a career path in the oil and gas field may look very different than one in IT. Likewise, getting ahead at a startup may require a different skill set or priorities than getting ahead at a global enterprise. Now that you've spent some time looking internally at your strengths and skills, it's time to turn your attention outward, to the organization and industry culture.

Are you working in an environment where showing your experience and skills will speak loudly enough for you to get the recognition you deserve? Or does the culture expect you to frequently tout your own successes? Is job-hopping the industry norm for advancement, or are there well-worn paths at the organization for promotion and greater responsibility? Studying what works in both your industry and organization will better enable you to develop a strategy for how to succeed and get ahead of your competition.


Connecting with your peers allows you to keep abreast of the latest information and see the competition within your industry or area. But, especially for women, there's a real value in networking with other women in project management: You can observe how they've gained career traction and what they're doing to further their career momentum. A strong network also gives you a stronger sounding board when you're seeking career advice or input.

I've found networking at PMI chapter events and conferences to be invaluable for these reasons and also for selling my professional brand. I encourage you to look for the thought leaders or champions of your profession and connect with them, whether to collaborate on research or simply to build professional relationships.

In some ways, career development can feel like an individual endeavor, as you size up the playing field and work to strengthen your own competitive advantages. But I'd also encourage you to actively support your colleagues who are women. That altruistic impulse can pay off—for everyone—in the long term: If you help them achieve their career goals, together you'll be strong enough to break through that glass ceiling to the jobs that women deserve. PM

img Emily Luijbregts, PMP, is a project manager at Siemens PLM Software, ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands.



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