Given what can almost be described as a skills shortage crisis in project management, it would make sense that organisations would be looking to non-traditional methods of recruiting valuable people into PM roles. But where do we find new types of people?
One such group that is starting to gain some attention across the world is women. A number of articles have been written and discussion abounds as to whether women can step up to the plate in what has traditionally been a male-dominated industry. The interesting sideline to the discussion is the observation that, surprise, surprise, women are different to men! They bring discreet skills that are increasingly in demand in the modern project management world.
Though PM is still a male-dominated area, an increasing number of women are being drawn to the discipline.
Project management is however evolving and is different to what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. In the past, projects were characterised by short-term, bottom-line targets based on linear planning. This required a focus of hard-nosed, results-oriented solution managers.
Today’s projects, in contrast, require greater sensitivity to politics and environments and are becoming highly complex. They require managers who are cooperative, flexible and who offer a holistic and interdisciplinary perspective. Those who possess good ‘soft skills’.
But are women really better at PM than men? When you browse blogs for the issue, once you get past the defensive rhetoric around the audacity of comparing the genders, there generally seems to be a consensus that women are not necessarily better overall PM’s. It appears they are seen to be better than men at managing the communication and people issues that frequently bring projects unstuck. If the focus is on outcomes rather than processes then this becomes a vital factor in project success.
Like men, women come to PM from a number of roles. They are economists, engineers, marketers, tradespeople, Defence service people, accountants, real estate agents and so on.
It is unsurprising, perhaps, that it is in such often neglected, so-called ‘soft skills’ that women are said to be head and shoulders above their male counterparts. Reading the general feeling in the PM industry one could draw the conclusion it traditionally has not been an area that was valued highly enough by employers.
So what’s difficult about project management for women?
A problem not unique to PM is work-life balance. Women experience the same pressure to deliver from clients, and for PM’s it can be said “the buck stops with you”.
There still exists a situation where women often leave one job to go home and start another. Often (but not exclusively) the main burden of childcare and child rearing remains with the woman who must manage a delicate balance between this important duty and the pressures of managing a complex project.
Without a lot of support from the family, a talented woman PM might be more likely to select a career with less pressure. Perhaps the lack of women in PM again comes down to choice – between managing a successful career and the satisfaction of raising a family.
Herein may lie a challenge for employers. There is a dilemma created by the ever-increasing skills shortage, the obvious and unique benefits women can contribute to the success of projects and the difficulties arising from lack of work-life balance. Perhaps it is the time for employers to take a serious look at, not just the rhetoric but, the reality of the benefits family-friendly policies – and the advantages they offer not just for women but for all project managers and the industry as a whole.