Fierce Project Management

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A Critical Conversation: Flexible Working – How to do it & How not to

Association for Project Management Women in Project Management SIG, in partnership with Fierce Project Management, Growth through Knowledge, University of Kent and Fastly held their first critical conversation event titled: Flexible Working, How to do it & How not to – for International Women’s Day 2020.

The event took place remotely to provide control for Coronavirus concerns, and is available to watch back below.

The Panel explores:
* How remote and flexible workking can work in practise, and the impact of the coronavirus as more people move to this way of working
* The challenges that can still exist when finding project work that is flexible
* Different experiences and examples of flexible working within project management
* Take away tips on how to make flexible working work for you and your projects

We missed the first few minutes on the recording which were introductions, and exploring how different companies were approaching remote working particularly in light of the coronavirus concerns.

About our Speakers:

Annie Maingard, University of Kent – I have worked in both academia and private industry and used the option to work flexibly in both. This has been around family caring requirements and also to allow for travel to and from work. I am now part time and have changed my arrangements several times to allow for work life balance. I am passionate about inclusivity within project management and academia, and work to share this encouragement into the industry.

Julien Maingard, Fastly – I work for Fastly, a US Bay-area Technology company and have done for 5 years since my eldest child was 6 months old. Introducing a long commute into a work/life balance made for a very big challenge and over the years I have increased my remote working to account for this. Looking back I wish I had pushed harder for more flexibility earlier on. I am now in a leadership position and I am reflecting this philosophy as much as I can towards the people joining my team today and would encourage everyone to accept the ideals of a “goal oriented work environment.”

Anita Phagura, Fierce Project Management – I have worked flexibly as a project manager for several years, instigated to create the allusive ‘work-life balance’ after experiencing a period of burnout and then later with different wants and needs after becoming a mum. This has ranged from compressed hours working, part time working and undertaking a job share – and I believe this has made me a more effective project manager. Through Fierce Project Management, I champion inclusivity within project management through working 121, in group programmes and with project businesses to empower women and underrepresented groups.

Nicole Reilly, Can Market – Nicole Reilly is the Principal Consultant for Growth Through Knowledge, and a director at CanMarket. She spent 12 years working with senior leaders, developing management information and business intelligence aimed at facilitating informed decision-making by both internal and external parties. Her wide-ranging business expertise was gained through alignment with sales, marketing, HR & finance functions – across Media & Publishing, Distribution & Logistics, Manufacturing and Financial Services industries. More recently, Nicole has focused on IT & business change-related consultancy, and was one of the first in Europe to achieve the IPMO-E certification with AIPMO.

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The experiences of 100 women in projects – Presented at the PMO Impact Summit

100 women in projects from all over the globe shared their experiences about their career.

A majority said they had faced challenges at work related to their gender or being part of a minority group – with key themes emerging – including not being heard or taken seriously.

I have recently presented some of the findings of this research at the PMO Impact Summit with a global audience.

This was such a great experience to amplify my own message and share these findings about the common themes emerging for challenges AND goals.

In the session I explored why not listening to women is bad for projects, what organisations can do to listen better, as well as some things women can do to amplify their message.

Laura and I also discussed the roles of both men and women in influencing the experiences for women in the profession – the good and the bad.

If you haven’t already seen my presentation you can sign up here.

I would love to hear what you think about the findings released so far! What resonated with you? Did anything surprise you?

Leave a comment below!

You can also join the conversation by joining our community Fierce Project Management Tribe on Facebook

I will be writing up the findings soon including more blog posts. So please sign up for updates by joining our mailing list

You can also contact me on the contact page of this website if you would like to work with me or explore how we can collaborate.

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.

If you’ve been following me you will know I have launched my business Fierce Project Management, helping women in projects get their voices heard.

I have shared some of my own experiences as a project manager where I realised gender WAS relevant- I don’t do it for sympathy, and I do not think I have experienced a particularly unfair or bad time, but just that I have one story, my story, of how these issues affected me.

I don’t think my experiences happened because people I work with have been “anti-women” or intending to create barriers but from a whole heap of cultural, systemic and unconcious biases that make it harder for women and underrepresented groups overall.

I share my story because other women all have their own stories.

  • It starts a discussion
  • It raises awareness
  • It resonates with others who thought it was “just me”
  • It might just make some people rethink and reframe

And overall its not just women who are missing out, its the projects and businesses if you aren’t maximising our input- what a waste of talent.

I’ve just got a single story but I asked to hear the story of 100 women in the profession. Collectively our voices have power!

The Women in Projects survey reached its 100 women target and I will be sharing the findings with you here! You can also sign up to receive updates by joining the Fierce Project Management mailing list.

This time last year I had returned to work after maternity and was preparing for redundancy.

In the lead up to my return, I was just getting over Post Natal Depression – which for me meant overwhelm and avoidance. I was fine with baby but anything outside that bubble felt too big.

I avoided putting the laundry away, let alone making life decisions and preparing to return to work.

What had seemed like a mountain, had to be faced.

I HAD to go back to work and make decisions. My time had run out.

My worries about returning to work: would Kai be ok without me, would Kai get too spoilt with grandparents, would I be able to carry on breastfeeding and find somewhere to pump, could I handle it…

My worries about the big decision: should I take the redundancy, what role should I go for, should I push myself internally for a promotion, would I get flexibility if I left, if I don’t leave now would I just stay forever, should I stay because its comfortable and flexible…

I had a smooth transition back, thanks to a great boss – which I really needed to show me Kai and I were ready. I took the redundancy- at times I’ve questioned if it was the right decision, but it’s given me time and resource to go pursue my calling, launching Fierce Project Management.

Anita, Founder of Fierce Project Management

I am not BAME

I’m Indian, Asian, British, Sikh, English, British- Asian (on a form) and I’m from Kent… but would never normally just say I am BAME, person of colour or certainly not an ethnic minority…

I read recently that ethnic minority in itself is a narrative we’ve been told. Its a fair point. Globally people of colour aren’t a minority. Here a better term is that we’re underrepresented

I do sometimes use BAME because it exists and I want to recognise the experiences beyond those that are white in the UK. Especially when I am talking about the experiences of women as race is relevant. And movements of feminism that miss difference fail us.

Interestingly enough when the wonderful Jemma Fairclough-Haynes shared insights from the Women and Work All Parlimentary Party Working Group, with the Fierce Project Management Movement – we spoke about the impact of COVID19 on working women, including BAME women… (in line with what the APPG spoke about), some people saw it as “what about white women” or that we were exclusively going to be talking about these underrepresented communities… that’s a useful conversation too but this was just *including*… (It was a fab fierce talk by the way of really important topics with so much work to be done for women AND women that are ‘BAME’ especially)

But BAME is lazy. Using it in the context of COVID, for example, masks that black, Pakistani and Bangledeshi communities are most at risk of death. And doesn’t tell us the why. There will be some commonalities but differences too.

It also allows the government and organisations to say they are doing ok when they have *some* ‘BAME’ representatives or can choose leads who aren’t black to actually lead on issues effecting black lives (for example).

Sometimes I do want to talk about shared experiences for “women of colour” but of course recognising its nuanced and my experiences aren’t the same as a black woman for example.

If we’re not white in the UK there is something shared though because we’re underrepresented . I thought maybe “not white” would be a better term a while ago – then I read “Why I’m Not Talking To White People About Race” and Reni Eddo-Lodge eloquently pointed out that we don’t want to be defined by something we are “not”. Absolute #truth and I realised that centred whiteness. (If you’ve not read it, DO make the time to – it’s a hugely enlightening read)

By the way, a recent survey (2020) by HR Data Hub showed in their sample- 70% of BAME employees had a salary at the bottom levels of less than £17k, whilst only 4% earned £50k or more. For women it is around 2%.

This paper also cites CIPD data from 2017 that shows that even though ‘BAME’ people represent 1/8th of the working population they only represent 1/16th of management positions. For women that will be less.

DATA matters and even better more nuanced data matters.

So it matters to keep understanding and advocating for people of colour, and women of colour recognising we have some shared experiences and shared challenges but that they are also very different. Stereotypes and biases effect us so differently. And we must advocate for the specifics too. Right now there is a real need to advocate for black lives.

(And yes in the context of Covid risks for Bangledeshi and Pakistani people too)

I’m searching for a better way to talk about that sembelence of shared experience being not white and then the intersection of being a woman in Britain – whilst not lumping us together and missing what makes our experiences still different.

Hmmm I’m pondering on it. What is the language? Do we even need it? 🤔

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Tears of strength

I cried in the meeting.

It was my first week in a new contract.

Maybe I wouldn’t have cried that easily a few years earlier but I was fed up, frustrated and ANGRY. Not just for me but for OTHER women who have to go through such shit.

I was also more vulnerable now, as a mum returning to work – There was more at stake.

I already had an uphill struggle to find a role with some flex – that had been important to me well before having a child, but now even more so.

Now the role, where I had managed to secure this, had started I was told to “reassess my priorities”.

Even from those with good intentions, the starting point was I should change my arranged working pattern and childcare rather than ask a couple of team members if they minded moving an arbitary meeting… (They didn’t!)

I cried, not because I wasn’t strong, but because I WAS standing up for myself whilst being met with inflexibility, rigidity and stigma.

I was standing up for myself, and other women and men who want flexibility, who have caring responsibilities, who have potential that is wasted when they are pushed out of the workplace because of this shit.

I stand for flex for all, work-life, freedom
I stand for women (and all genders too!)

Have you experienced challenges with finding flexibility within project management?