I have my own story being a woman in project management in a male dominated industry, most of my time in rail and construction – I was used to being the only woman in the room in a project meeting or at a social, but there were always women around me.
Then I got promoted, and started looking upwards even more. There were no longer women around me nor ahead of me.
I managed a team of women (I had never seen this before yet all male teams were the norm) – We earned a nickname, despite being exceptionally awesome. Sure it was in ‘jest’, but it still served to disparage even if that wasn’t the intention.
I earned labels for my leadership which made me question myself, until I reflected that those labels came with a gender bias. I experienced overt gender bias because I was a young women leading.
I do not mean to say I had an exceptionally hard story and I even had some experiences where my gender afforded me ‘opportunities’ – It came with more work but no more pay so make of it what you will!
The thing is every woman I knew in the profession, when the topic ventured to these discussion points, had a story about how gender shaped their experiences. Not the same story – sometimes similar and sometimes different, and sometimes A WHOLE LOT worse.
Over time, my ambition got knocked and I didn’t try as hard to be ambitious. I got pregnant too and my career kind of stalled. I still cared about my projects, and programmes. But I didn’t push myself to my capability – I was ready for a promotion YEARS before I even actively applied.
I was holding myself back if I am honest. But my observations of the culture, of how few women actually broke through, of how there was a boys club at the top despite the talk of diversity and inclusivity definitely contributed. There was still a glass ceiling. I didn’t think it was impossible but certainly exceptionally difficult to reach the upper echelons of management – so I put myself on pause, without even truly noticing.
I had time to reflect after my baby arrived – not straight away, whilst I was on maternity I was focused on nurturing a small human being and coping with Post Natal Depression – but after returning back to work, I decided to leave the company I had been at for 8 years.
I now OWNED my ambition – it was back in full force, funnily enough it was now that it came back when it would have been comfortable to settle – but I knew I wanted more. I also had to work out how this would work with my desire for maintaining flexibility (something I had actually had for several years, but was even more important to me now to achieve balance with family life.
I could have stayed and found the promotion and flexibility with time – there weren’t cast iron guarantees but I had a supportive boss who said I was capable and ready, and understood my needs. Yet I decided I wanted more.
So I ventured out into the wider project management world. I struggled with my values – I still wanted the flexibility but I WAS ambitious too. I was told by a few that these weren’t compatible – I would have to opt out of one to achieve the other.
I prioritised the flexibility and went out into the market place – applying for a couple of permanent roles and exploring contract opportunities. I followed through on this but it was not easy to find a non-standard working pattern within my industry. There were some companies who had great policies and followed through when I met for interviews but overall it was difficult – with a whole heap of biases during recruitment and within contract roles because I was not seeking ‘full-time’ work, and because I was a “young mum”.
Throughout that time an idea was forming at the back of my mind – that really I wanted my efforts to be supporting and championing women in the profession who were a bit like me in their experiences.
I finally stepped up to my mission in Summer 2019 – and its been an amazing rollercoaster since – affording me a way to be ambitious and have flexibility.
It started with a story – my story – I shared bits of it and it resonated. I wanted to know other women’s experiences too. So I asked. They answered. It grew momentum. I made some awesome connections and got fascinating answers. In fact I got 100 answers in total, so now I can tell the story of 100 women in project management.
100 collective voices matter. They tell a collection of stories about the rich experiences of these women within the profession – the challenges they have faced and their ambitions.
Fierce Project Management was created to empower these women to get their voice heard and be taken seriously, so they they can lead in a style that is Fierce and Authentic that suits them.
I am privileged to share these stories to raise awareness and effect change, and to use it to support women in the profession through my own work providing mentorship and leadership development. I am also building on this research in partnership with WiPM SIG of the APM to support the development of their strategy.