Did you know that only 28 per cent of project professionals are women? Unfortunately, while many industries are now making a real commitment to diversity, project management is still often described as “pale, male, and stale,” so is it time for some more female project managers?
Needless to say, there are good and bad project managers across all genders. However, our natural instincts and qualities as males or females do play a role in the characteristics we are able to bring to our project teams, so this is certainly something worth exploring in more depth. That way, we can better understand how each gender influences their project team to achieve success and learn from each other to become better at leading project teams.
In this post, we will explore the female project lead in further detail, delving into what females can bring to project management and what we can learn from this.
Is Project Management a Man’s World?
Gender-specific obstacles have not been eradicated altogether. It is safe to say that project management is still a man’s world, although we are making some improvements and moving closer to greater balance.
However, a lot of female managers report that they have to assert themselves first if they are to overcome the typical stereotypes and gain acceptance. There has also been a scarcity of female role models in the industry. This can particularly be attributed to the fact that more females than males face the challenge of attaining a good work/life balance when managing a project.
We are glad to see that there are big changes happening in the industry, though, and we are making some positive changes in terms of quality.
What Can Female Project Leads Bring to the Table?
Men and women are different. We have different qualities. We approach things differently. This is something that should be embraced in the workplace, recognizing that both male and female project managers can bring great characteristics to the table.
So, how can more female project managers enrich the current landscape?
Women Can Create an Environment That Will Breed Success
The best female project managers will also combine a meticulous and logical way of thinking and working with creativity, and this is a combination that can bring about innovation. And, innovation is often the way that projects become a true success and end up exceeding expectations.
We talk about successful projects time and time again. We talk about meeting business objectives. We talk about delivering projects within the budget and the timeframe that has been scheduled. However, when a project truly dazzles and leaves a lasting impact is when it exceeds expectations.
Female leaders also appreciate that a project will fail when egos are allowed to get in the way, and different departments or groups do not work together in a cohesive manner to reach a shared goal.
They know that any work environment that enables a blame culture to develop or flourish is going to have a much worse chance of successfully delivering projects when compared with one that has an attitude of accepting something has taken a turn for the worse and then moving on in a positive manner.
The fact that women are known to be excellent multi-taskers is also a big benefit here when it comes to change management and dealing efficiently with unexpected risks. They are not likely to be fazed if there is a change to staffing levels, the project budget, requirements, or priorities. They can keep a cool head and make the required adjustments.
This is not to say that female project managers are not going to plan for such events. Every project manager worth their salt knows that any of these factors can impact a project, yet they simply keep a cool head and deal with the problem in an efficient manner or they will put together a contingency plan with minimal fuss.
Women Are Able to See the Other Side of the Picture Well
Females, in general, are believed to be more empathetic and sensitive. This is something that female project managers can use to their benefit.
An effective project manager has the ability to view things from a macro perspective. Understanding a varied point of view or the “other side’ can be vital in project management. Sometimes, what may seem an unnecessary stretch on the surface can end up being a very critical business driver.
Female leaders can bring color and motivate teams effectively
Female leaders are also known to be excellent motivators. One of the reasons for this is that they are great communicators, which is something we will discuss in more detail below.
However, women have a natural tendency to take a personal interest in individual team members. They are also known to be more empathetic. They build motivated and loyal teams who are willing to adapt and be flexible.
When it comes to delivering a successful outcome, especially in complicated projects, motivated teams are always going to have a distinct advantage.
This is not to say that men cannot motivate teams – they can! However, women have a tendency to motivate teams in an effortless and innate manner. They instinctively know when to criticize and when to praise.
Because of this, female leaders can bring out the best in a project team by discouraging individual team members from trying to compete against one another. They are also highly effective when it comes to defusing conflict, and when they are under pressure, they do not lose sight of the fact that a team that is motivated is always going to work better when compared with a team that is disheartened.
So, with great interpersonal and communication skills, and team building and teamwork expertise, women are able to truly excel in a project management environment.
Female Leaders Can Deal With Challenges From a Non-judgmental Perspective
A non-judgmental environment will help your team to be open about their challenges and their needs.
An astute female project manager might actually uncover any issues that are simmering before they end up turning into raging fires.
A high emotional quotient enables female leaders to spot interpersonal conflict before it flares up. Combine this with their excellent communication skills, and a female project manager is able to tackle problems quickly and manage risks in a more effective manner.
Women Can Make Complicated Problems Simple
Project management can be a balancing act. You need to get the balance right between project reports and documents that are easy to understand, yet also have sufficient detail to project assurance that business objectives are being reached and potential problems are also being highlighted.
Female project managers do not have a tendency to use technical jargon or complexity to overwhelm or impress their peers. Instead, they will only add complexity if it is needed to clarify requirements.
Even then, the best female communicators will make complex problems or tasks seem uncomplicated.
Women are known to be excellent communicators. They like to talk to others and they will instigate impromptu conversations. Simply being chatty does not make someone a good communicator. However, women have an indication to talk and explore topics in more depth, which can be of great benefit in a project management role.
Frequent, informal conversations with the project team can make everyone feel a lot more comfortable. Team members will find it easier to highlight issues or raise any concerns that they may have. This means that issues can be acted on quickly before they end up derailing the project altogether.
This could also mean that it is more likely that the female project manager will have noticed any issues before they end up becoming a real problem.
Results From a U.S. Project Management Survey Are Very Telling
In a survey that was carried out by the Project Management Perspectives research group, it was revealed that women were considerably more successful than men in the following areas of project management:
- They delivered better results with regard to the budget
- They were significantly better in terms of adhering to the project schedule
- There were more projects delivered that either met expectations or exceeded them
- Fewer projects were abandoned
Women Create Project Environments That Help People to Thrive
Female project managers are able to groom their teams effectively, and this is one of the distinct advantages. Their innate ability to nurture and help their teams build up their skills will result in better career growth and development for everyone on the team. Providing their team members with the correct inputs and training that they need, when they need it, is vital.
Collaborative projects tend to flourish with female leaders. They are able to get people together to work effectively toward a shared purpose. This means that there are fewer project delays and better on-time performance.
Final Words on the Female Project Lead
Hopefully, we’ve given more than a little insight into the female project lead and how this could represent a departure from conservative project management. There is no denying that more female project managers could bring more color and a different perspective to the role, which could be just the thing we need to freshen up the industry.
Of course, we must stress that there are good and bad project managers across all genders. Not all female project managers are going to bring the qualities mentioned above. You still need to hire carefully to ensure that you can enjoy the best possible results.
Paul Naybour is the Business Development Director for Parallel Project Training. He is a well-known speaker on the Association for Project Management (APM) Network in the UK and a regular contributor to the APM blog. He is also one of the voices behind the popular series of APM podcasts. He has contributed insightful thought leadership articles to a range of publications for more than 10 years.