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Women in Project Management

Published on: 15 Apr 2024

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is all about inclusion so let’s explore ways that we can break down barriers to create more diversity across projects. In project management, inclusion is particularly important due to the collaborative nature of project work. Diverse teams bring a range of perspectives, experiences, and expertise to the table, leading to more creative problem-solving, improved decision-making, and ultimately, greater project success.

Women in Project Management

In recent years, the project management profession has witnessed a growing interest from women, contributing to a more diverse landscape within the field and reflecting a broader trend toward gender diversity. The Association for Project Management reports that the project management profession has seen an increase in the number of women entering the field, with almost a third of project professionals being female. In the UK, the project profession shows an approximate 70% male and 30% female gender split. But despite this positive trend, there is still gender disparity, especially in senior levels where women are underrepresented in leadership positions.

Acknowledging this disparity is crucial so that we can identify and break barriers to create a more diverse project workforce across all sectors. Inclusion is essential for creating a work environment where all individuals, regardless of gender, feel valued, respected, and empowered to contribute their skills and perspectives. By encouraging inclusive cultures, we unlock our full potential, drive innovation, and achieve better business outcomes.

What are the barriers to inclusion?

There are various difficulties and challenges that hinder and deter women from joining the project profession:

  • Poor work-life balance can pose challenges for women in project management because personal commitments can interfere with professional responsibilities. It’s well known that women are more likely to face stereotypes related to caregiving, for example being perceived as distracted or disengaged at work. This brings us to the next barrier.
  • Unconscious bias such as gender stereotypes and assumptions can damage hiring processes, promotions and leadership decisions. When discrimination based on gender stereotypes persist, women are put at a disadvantage. They’re stopped before they even start and it’s discouraging them from advancing their career.
  • Workplace environments and culture can often prioritise and empower traditional masculine traits that may create barriers for women, which reduces their opportunities for advancing. There are also many environments where women face risks due to ill-fitting equipment or they lack accessible spaces for changing making it difficult to work comfortably and safely.
  • Lack of support from peers and mentors can be detrimental when empowering women. Long term success and career development hinge on guidance and networking, and many women feel excluded in project teams, preventing them from finding support within their organisation.

What can we do to be more inclusive?

To create a more inclusive environment, empowering women and promoting gender diversity requires all of us to  support as individuals, teams and organisations. There are various strategies that we can call on our workplace to carry out, whilst encouraging a diversity mindset within our teams:

  • Unconscious bias training and awareness programmes will help teams and employees recognise and mitigate biases in hiring processes, promotions and decision-making. When we raise awareness and encourage objective evaluations for performance, we increase the opportunity for diversity to thrive.
  • Flexible work arrangements and policies that accommodate diverse needs and preferences, including flexible hours, parental leave options and remote working. By prioritising a work-life balance and accommodating care-giving responsibilities, organisations and leaders support the retention and progress of women in project management roles.
  • Events and spaces for women such as the
  • APM Women in Project Management (WIPM) Conference are important places to break down these barriers. It’s a space where women can support one another to overcome work challenges and share knowledge. These events are also great opportunities for men to improve their awareness of women in projects.
  • Tailored courses and programmes can provide opportunities for women in project management to network and improve their skills to succeed in leadership roles. Upskilling is vital for all project professionals to be able to progress in their career and it’s crucial to think about how these programmes and courses are run so that they are more inclusive for women.
  • Promote inclusive leadership and encourage team leaders to demonstrate inclusive behaviours by valuing diverse perspectives, fostering open communication, and creating a culture of respect. This can help teams become more diverse and inclusive, and as time goes, the entire organisation has an environment of equality.
  • Showcase diversity by celebrating and acknowledging the variety of people within the organisation – the more we highlight inclusion, the more likely it is for diverse talent to come aboard. Highlight the benefits this bring to organisations as well as teams on a day-to-day basis.
  • Maintain transparency and hold organisations accountable for their efforts in diversity and inclusion. Ask your team what they need, and ask your organisations what they’re doing. By getting involved and encouraging improvement, progress towards a more balance workplace can increase. 
  • Encourage advocacy and allyship between colleagues to support gender diversity and inclusion. Encourage men and women to actively advocate for gender equality, challenge stereotypes, and promote inclusive behaviours in the workplace. Formal and informal events are a great way to bring people together and build a foundation of understanding despite their differences.

Diversity and inclusion are critical factors in fostering innovation, creativity, and success in project management. Changes in workplace culture, diversity and inclusion training, gender-neutral hiring and new leadership styles create a supportive environment for women. Promoting gender diversity in project management requires a conscious effort to not only make a change to break barriers, but also acknowledge and identify where they exist. These barriers hinder women’s participation, which is detrimental to the project profession because project delivers change for the betterment of society – and women are a vital part of society.