Social Responsibility—Promoting Gender Equality

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.

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Stephen W. Maye

Hello, I'm Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I'm here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and in this episode we're celebrating International Women’s Day by discussing ways to empower women in the workplace and around the world.

As we’ve mentioned before, the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report predicts that it’ll take 108 years for women to achieve truly equal status in regards to employment, education, health and political influence. And today we’re gonna look at how individuals and organizations are working to close that gap. 

Tegan Jones

One reason the gender gap is so large is that, worldwide, women are just far less likely to be in the workforce than men. In 2018, the International Labour Organization reported that just under 50 percent of women were in the labor market, and that’s as compared to 75 percent of men. That’s of course largely due to the unequal demands that women face when it comes to household maintenance and family caregiving.

And when women aren’t working, they’re not adding to GDP. So this alone creates a drag on the economy. But there are other, less obvious costs of gender inequality. When women aren’t formally educated or given equal opportunities to participate in society, the world misses out on all the talent and skill they could’ve brought to the table.

Stephen W. Maye

In fact, the UN says empowering women is key to reaching all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals it has set for 2030. These goals cover everything from ending poverty and hunger to improving infrastructure and providing clean, affordable energy. 

I recently had the chance to talk with Adam Simpson, manager of global programs for UN Women in New York. We discussed the organization’s work and the role gender equality plays in attaining these ambitious goals. So we’re gonna hear what he had to say a little later in the episode.

Tegan Jones

So when you’re talking more specifically about employment and professional opportunities, one area where women are particularly underrepresented is, of course, the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math: In the U.S., women make up 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce, and in the U.K., only 11 percent of engineering professionals are female. Bridging this gap will take a significant mind shift—both for organizations and for young women just starting to think about what they want out of their careers.

To get a feeling for what that might look like, we’re gonna talk to Anne Steinhardt, who is a systems engineering manager with Cisco Systems’ global virtual engineering organization. Anne is also a board member for Cisco’s Connected Women Americas in Washington, D.C. She has some interesting thoughts on how organizations can do their part to help level the playing field.

Stephen W. Maye

I know a lot of that comes down to the support that women have from their peers, mentors and managers. And it reminds me of a couple of early episodes that we did: one that we did with Jane Canniff and one that we did with Jacqueline Van Pelt. And in both cases, they talked about the importance of the early managers and mentors that really helped them establish their careers. It clearly had meant a lot.

So let’s start with Kush Dhillon, engagement manager for Capgemini in London, who’s here to talk about how she helps her female colleagues set clear career goals—and build the confidence they need to reach them.

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Kush Dhillon 

Women, I feel, sometimes don’t have the tools necessary to compete with their colleagues—especially when they’re trying to get further up the hierarchy into more senior positions. And also, it’s not even a lack of tools sometimes; it’s the idea of their self-confidence. So they would be concerned about their project management skills, or their technical skills, or their ability to, for instance, complete a design or something well.

I think that the first thing I do with a colleague or anybody that I feel needs some help is I actively listen. And I think that many times, women don’t feel that they’re listened to, or heard. And I think that that’s something that is the first step I do. I actually say to them, “What is the problem?” And I let them verbalize it, and I really try to pull the strings a little bit, to try and get as much out of the individual as possible. Because sometimes the problem is not surface level problem; you have to go deeper.

So the second step I like to take is I like to say to them, okay, regardless of the problem, regardless of what they’re trying to achieve, “What is the first small step do you think that you need to take, or do you think is a logical thing to do, for you to reach this goal that you feel like is unmanageable and unattainable?”

So I think that what that does is it enables the other individual to actually start visualizing—instead of visualizing the end goal which seems a million miles away. It’s so simple to understand that first step in the journey, even though sometimes it’s the most difficult thing to figure out.

So it’s about helping them look outside themselves. And sometimes, like any good coach or any good mentor, it’s really sometimes about them having the answers in themselves, and giving them the space and also giving them the support to say, “I’m sitting right next to you. I’m gonna be here. I’m gonna be walking with you on this journey. Don’t feel like you’re alone.”

Diversity, gender equality—it’s not something that changes overnight, because people’s opinions don’t change overnight, unfortunately. It’s a learning process. And I think that the company who’s, or any company or any leadership—and a lot of this does start from the leadership level—who are willing to say, “You know what? Diversity is not just something that we just want to tick a box on. Diversity is a conversation we want to continue having, because it’s a conversation we love, and this conversation needs loads of different voices. And we’re going to say that this conversation is never going to end. And we’re going to constantly check in with you that you’re okay and you’re happy with the way we’re going.”

And through that, I absolutely fundamentally believe—and it’s been proven—that the business will do better, the people in your business will be happier. We can make diversity have a real impact in our organizations moving forward.

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Tegan Jones

What Kush said there at the beginning, about that lack of self-confidence women often have, it got me thinking about imposter syndrome. Is that something that you’re familiar with, Stephen?

Stephen W. Maye

I am actually. I encountered it primarily in the world of management consulting, where you have people that are smart and capable and well-trained, and yet they’re walking around with this concern, this fear, this worry that they’re somehow gonna be found out as being less than people expect. Even though they have the capability that they need to do the job, they worry that they will be perceived or found out as an imposter.

Tegan Jones

Exactly. And everyone probably feels this way at one time or another.  But women generally experience this type of doubt—this fear of being found out as a fraud—more frequently than men.

According to a study commissioned by Access Commercial Finance, two-thirds of women in the U.K. say they’ve experienced imposter syndrome at work in the past 12 months. The study also found that men were 18 percent less likely to feel like imposters than their female counterparts.

Stephen W. Maye

I’m sure there are a lot of reasons for that, but the fact that women are underrepresented in the workplace certainly can’t help the situation. And here to talk about how organizations can help address this issue is Anne Steinhardt, a systems engineering manager with Cisco Systems. Anne also serves on the board of Cisco’s Connected Women Americas and is a long-time member of the Society of Women Engineers.

Tegan Jones

Let’s go to her now.

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Tegan Jones

It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of women in tech. Solving the problem might seem easy: just hire more women. But Anne Steinhardt says the issue is actually much more complicated than you might think.

Anne Steinhardt

So, there’s a pipeline coming in of women graduating college with engineering and science degrees who are great candidates to join a company like ours. But historically—and this is not just Cisco, this is a lot of companies in tech—a lot of women leave the technical role after about seven years on average. They either leave the workforce entirely to start a family—and because of the pace, how fast things change in technology, if you take the year off it’s really hard to come back in and pick up where you left off, cause so much will change in that timeline. So a lot of women don’t re-enter the workforce after they’ve left for personal reasons. Or, they just decide there’s just a lot of challenges in being a woman in a technical role, and they move into a non-technical role.

So all across the sciences, and all across technology and all across engineering fields, it’s a challenge we’re all facing, and we’re all fighting for the same small population of women who have that skillset.

Tegan Jones

That’s why Anne is committed to doing whatever she can to help bring more women into the fold. Since college, she’s been a member of the Society of Women Engineers, an organization that advocates on behalf of women in the profession.

Anne also serves on the board of Cisco’s Connected Women Americas. And each year, Connected Women hosts global networking events on International Women’s Day and International Girls’ Day to encourage more women to consider technical careers.

Anne Steinhardt

We actually bring in younger girls, middle school and high school aged, to our company. So, we have offices all over the world. We’ll bring young women into all of our local offices, and we spend the day with them really talking about, what is an engineer? What do we do every day? What kind of education do you need to go into this career?

We do speed mentoring, and every year at the end of the day, I always feel like I’m close to tears because somebody will come up and say to me, like, “This was just the best day. I learned so much, and now that I know what this career is, I think I might want to be an engineer.”

Tegan Jones

Cisco’s also hoping to spur a ripple effect across the sector by spearheading an initiative called the Multiplier Effect.

Anne Steinhardt

And the idea behind this is that if everybody in tech helped one diverse person—whether that’s a woman, a minority, someone who’s early in career—you pick one person and you sponsor them. You talk about them when they’re not in the room. You be their champion until they get to the next step in their career. That by itself would have a huge multiplying effect on the amount of diversity we have in tech.

Tegan Jones

But Anne says filling the pipeline is only the first step. Organizations also need to provide ongoing support if they want to keep women engaged for the long-term. That’s where Cisco’s Office of Inclusion and Collaboration comes in.

Anne Steinhardt

So, you can bring in a lot of diverse people. But then you have to make them feel like they’re part of the team, that they’re really critical to our success. And that’s the inclusion portion of it.

So creating that culture where everybody feels welcome, and everybody knows that their voice is valuable and critical to our success. That’s why we call it the Office of Inclusion and Collaboration and not the Office of Diversity, because diversity, you can kind of just force that, but then not get the results you want. You really have to create that inclusive and collaborative environment.

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Stephen W. Maye

This perspective on the inclusion narrative definitely is surfacing more frequently. A lot of organizations are moving beyond the idea of encouraging tolerance or fostering diversity. They’re starting to think about how they can build a truly collaborative environment that empowers different types of people to bring their unique strengths to the table. Ultimately, isn’t this really about unleashing the potential of every person connected to your business or organization?

Tegan Jones

It really is, and it’s great to see people and organizations recognizing those systemic causes of discrimination and inequality—and really working to change the structures that fuel those cycles.

Stephen W. Maye

And that’s something our next guest has a lot of experience with. Adam Simpson is the manager of global programs for UN Women. He’s based in New York, but he works with public and private organizations all over the world to help them improve the lives of women in their communities.

Tegan Jones

The work that they’re doing is just so meaningful. Let’s hear how they make it happen.

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Stephen W. Maye

Adam, it is great to have you here, and I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. Tell me a little bit about the work that you do at UN Women. And really, what’s the organization’s mission?

Adam Simpson

Sure. Thanks, Stephen. It’s a pleasure to be here with you.

In terms of the organization’s mission, we do that global work to make the vision of the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs, a reality for women and girls. We focus on four strategic priorities as an organization. One is that women lead, participate in and benefit equally from government systems. That’s part of the global mandate. The second is that women have income security, decent work and economic autonomy. The third is that all women and girls live a life free from all forms of violence. And the fourth is that women and girls contribute to and have greater influence in building sustainable peace and resilience and benefit equally from the prevention of natural disasters, conflicts, and humanitarian action.

I’m currently managing our global program management office based out of our headquarters in New York. In my role I provide strategic guidance and oversight for our program directorate. That’s our global portfolio of regional offices, country offices and program presences. These are spread around 96 countries around the world reporting into the program directorate here in New York.

Stephen W. Maye

So where does the mission and the goals and objectives of UN Women tie specifically to those Sustainable Development Goals?

Adam Simpson

It’s just a fact. Women have a right to equality in all areas across those SDGs, so therefore the gender equality and women’s empowerment must be embedded across the legal systems reform, upheld in both laws and legal practices, and in relating to all areas of life relating to gender equality, efforts need to be made to cut out the roots of gender discrimination.

Specifically, Goal 5 of the SDGs addresses eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual violence and other types of exploitation. Significant challenges remain, including down to the collection of data on violence against women and girls—which of course is a very intricate, specific methodological and ethical process to get that data—as well as working with national stakeholders and building capacities to meet requirements to collect these baseline studies to ensure that we’re moving forward with these initiatives.

Goal 5 calls for more, however. It also calls for unpaid care work to be recognized, reduced and redistributed. Around the world, women do the vast majority of unpaid work, including childcare, cooking, cleaning and farming. And this is often done at the cost of pursuing education and opportunities to work, which is actually another SDG in itself; that’s Goal 8. So you can see the linkages here between them.

Stephen W. Maye

So you’re clearly pursuing a broad and complex body of objectives, as you’ve just described, and I have got to assume that money for this work and resources in general for this work is finite. So how do you decide what types of programs and projects that you’re going to stand up and that you’re gonna create and you’re gonna pursue and will ultimately produce the greatest impact?

Adam Simpson

In looking at the types of programs and projects that are gonna create the most impact related back to the mandate, UN Women, we spend time to really first understand what are our priorities in that specific context, whether it’s global or regional or country-specific, because we do programs in all of these contexts. We also find ourselves implementing projects in environments that are vastly different from one another and have vast differences, including culturally, socially and geographically.

But also and perhaps more importantly in terms of stability and security, a lot of our work happens in conflict and post-conflict settings. So, in order to ensure that these programs with finite funding are going to create the most impact, we start with a robust, evidence-based approach to addressing how our programs are going to link into the major issues and obstacles within the sphere of gender equality and women’s empowerment. That can be done through advocacy-based projects, social media projects and so on.

So in doing this assessment, we develop a clear and impactful country strategy. This is what we call our strategic note. This is done at the country level by each of our UN Women offices around the world. And this strategy document is based on extensive consultation in country with relevant experts, partners and stakeholders—stakeholders from civil society, from the government, from other UN groups and within the UN agencies—to select the most pertinent issues regarding gender equality and detailing the programmatic response and programmatic and operational needs that the country team will require to successfully address them.

For example, our multi-country office in Fiji. This is a country office we have that covers 14 Pacific Island countries and territories. And as an example, this multi-country office has expressed a strong focus on the thematic of ending violence against women, as well as political participation for women and humanitarian response as ways to build more inclusive societies. This is where they would develop a strategic note based on those thematics to design specific interventions along those lines.

The work that we do in New York is to support the designing of these projects to ensure that they are prepared with a strong or visible plan for funding from the donors. These strategic notes then are validated through a peer review process that goes through the regions and up through headquarters and ultimately approved in New York by the program directorate.

Stephen W. Maye

What have you found to be the process or the means by which you gain the kind of involvement and engagement and ultimately buy-in and support from such a vast number of and range of stakeholders in an effort like what you described? How do you do that? How do you manage that process?

Adam Simpson

One of the main ways to do this is to ensure that we have mapped effectively the key stakeholders that we need to work with. I had mentioned some of these earlier, but they’re generally from civil society organizations that help catalyze the work that we’re doing that can help turn our programs into sustained results. Very often, other key stakeholders include the governmental partners we engage to support and embed our work. And it’s specifically ensuring that we also engage the beneficiaries, of course—the citizens of the countries we’re working in.

Stephen W. Maye

One of the things that you talked about a few minutes ago was the importance of clarifying and achieving outcomes that are relevant to the environment in which you’re working, and those don’t look exactly the same in each country or in each region. What’s the process that you go through to really define and then ultimately measure project success? Is that unique in your world or is that very similar to what we might expect in projects in entirely different corporate environments, for example?

Adam Simpson

There are some similarities, certainly, in terms of the process that we undertake. And within the UN, there’s a broad approach to what we call results-based management. So, within that sphere of results-based management, UN Women has its own results management system that allows the organization to identify its desired results and align projects, outputs, programs and outcomes, and create indicators to validate these. I mentioned the idea that our project teams are ensuring their interventions are fit for purpose, working closely with civil society and our network counterparts, key stakeholders, to ensure the continuing ability via the project business case to do that reflection on the project success indicators.

This is where it becomes a little more complex. For example, if UN Women is implementing a project in Tunisia that’s focused on helping enact legal reforms regarding gender equality, such as was done recently. A recent example in Tunisia, there was a passing of a law that permits women and men to have an equal inheritance, which actually overrules an existing religious norm in the country in which the share of a woman’s inheritance up until very recently was only half that of a man’s. The new law was actually approved just a few months ago in late 2018.

Similarly, along the lines of legal reform, UN Women has been working for several years as strong advocates on gender equality in Liberia. And this work, this influencing and this research and project-based implementation worked to the passage of an affirmative action bill in Liberia, in which five seats in the Liberian House of Representatives are reserved for women.

So, obviously this sort of social change happens beyond the life cycle of a single project. It can be, in that context, difficult to simply measure project success, but when we’re looking at sort of these monumental positive outcomes and shifts at the global level, we can very clearly see and understand the value add of the advocacy work happening in Liberia for six or seven years to make these sorts of changes. The important thing that our internal system helps us do is to track and justify and refine our methods to deliver those sorts of projects that can lead to such inspiring changes in our world.

Stephen W. Maye

So before we cut you loose here, I do want to ask you one more thing. If you think about someone coming into this field—whether they’re going to come directly to work for the UN or whether they’re simply going to be doing work that is global in nature, mission-driven, that would be in some sense equivalent to the kind of work that you’re doing—and you could offer only one piece of advice, what is that piece of advice that you offer to that person shifting that career or beginning to build a career in that space?

Adam Simpson

As we talked, of course, these sorts of interventions and cultural changes, they require a lot of social and behavioral change over a long period of time. It can be very exhausting. It’s a lot of hard work.

And one of the things that I found that is often bringing people together when you’re looking at trying to achieve long-term results is the idea of everyone speaking the same language, but not just in terms of language skills or capacities or cultures, but actually speaking the same language in terms of how you wanna deliver.

Formal project management training is a way that I’ve seen a lot of success with this. And once you do that, and people are speaking the same language, I strongly believe if you stay the course and continue to learn and innovate and be flexible, and continue to contribute effectively to this kind of work, it will definitely be worth it in the long run.

Stephen W. Maye

And with that, Adam Simpson, manager of global programs at UN Women, has the last word. Adam, thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking with you.

Adam Simpson

Thank you, Stephen. It was my pleasure.

Narrator

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