Fierce Project Management

Ah July 2020. A full year on into Fierce Project Management! Of course 2020 hasn’t been the 2020 I planned, and lockdown (and life after official lockdown) has taken it’s toll with a toddler at home and our usual support network, childcare and nursery having vanished overnight. July for us has been when some of that has started to come back and it’s been a relief!

I am gearing up to an exciting Autumn, where I will be talking about the Fierce Way to creating a Brave New World at the PMO Impact Summit , a feature in Project Magazine and another exciting speaking announcement still to come! Not only this but I was asked to feature in a social media magazine, write a guest blog and guest on a podcast – all on topics related to women in project management as we emerge from lockdown and into a new world where gender equality has been shifted.

My face after an amazing interview for Project magazine!
My face after an epic interview with Project magazine

All of these opportunities have arisen from allybuilding and consistently amplifying my message – being clear on my ask, my mission and self-promotion, of celebrating my successes publically. This is the core of carving a career you actually want, and to be an effective change-maker in my view. I advocate these at the heart of Fierce Project Management – and this is what I work with my coaching clients and advocate in my communities.

It hasn’t happened overnight – this is a year in of consistently showing up with my message of empowering women in projects to be fierce, and talking my talk and walking my walk providing value to those in my world, sharing the vulnerabilities within my boundaries and getting comfortable to stretch into my fierce zone being courageously visible – and asking for what I want with allies who could support me.

I have also been able to ask allies who are experts in their field to provide sessions in our membership community for the fierce topics that matter (which the community have told me are important to them)- I have known Jonathon for 11 years and Mandy is my actual very best friend in real life, from since we were 16 years old. We’ve spoken about Customer Experience for Fierce Project Managers and Sexual Harassment – so we understand what our rights actually are and what constitutes as sexual harassment. I learnt alot from these sessions and I learn so much from our Fierce Project Managers in our Membership too.

We have a Fierce PM Bookclub, the incredibly fierce talk that really matters, and are an amazing support network. I am seeing Fierce Project Managers thrive, but also being able to support each other through the dips – being a change maker is hard and could be lonely without a network who has got your back.

I’m also working on my skills and invested in two new programmes to support my speaking and business and community growth. I get that investing in your own development is a big decision and I absolutely feel this. For me I decided it was the right step. This is alongside working towards my International Coaching Federation accreditation in coaching so I can better support my clients which has been a big cost and time investment – however I am absolutely seeing the benefits of serving my clients to be even more fierce even better. I absolutely recognise the commitment of investment in those who choose to work with me and it’s important to me that I am there for them honouring their investment so that they can level up.

Clients have had great coaching wins. Recently a VIP 1-2-1 client started her new role as a Assistant Director – she had reached her goals and was absolutely living the career she wanted, which was huge steps from when we first started working together!

We are officially half way through the summer round of the Fierce Project Management Mastermind and they have been doing some deep work on getting clear with what their ask is, their values and acknowledging their awesome. Wins have also been showing up more fiercely, amplifying their message online (moving from LinkedIn lurkers to showing up with a message to share), standing up for what it is important to them at work and even in personal life, communicating and asserting their worth, setting fierce boundaries and creating visions for the future they are actually excited about that is uniquely right for them.

A win from a Fierce Project Manager in the Summer round of Fierce PM Mastermind

I even updated my Vision Board alongside our fierce PMs who have been getting clear on their own ASK, This was a great reminder to me of the successes over the last year of how I am carving out the vision through my work and personally as well as focusing on what is really important to me going forward, I even added some really BIG and FIERCE dreams – which will be a big big stretch but I do believe I can create those realities!

An updated Vision Board

Personally my biggest win in July was completing the Samarathon! I walked 26.2 miles over the course of a month! Supported by a team of Fierce allies. We contributed to the £4k raised by my local branch of the Samaritans, where I have been a listening volunteer. This will be a phenomenal boost to the charity – and for me and my toddler it’s got us active and in the habit of near daily regular walks, which is a huge change from an entirely sedentary & hibernating June.

I’ve also been volunteering with Gravesend Gurdwara to deliver meals to the vulnerable through lockdown. This has made such a huge difference to some who have really needed it

I still haven’t been going ‘out out’ very much but with the easing of lockdown we have started seeing close family and that has massively helped with grandparents looking after my toddler, Kai, again – we have loved getting that connection and support back. Kai seems to have got a lot more sensible and grown up over lockdown – although not entirely! For the very first time in over 3 years Kai has even had sleepovers without us there! This is opening up the vision of more freedoms 🙂 and even a one day Fierce PM retreat which was suggested in the membership community – and ah yep I added it onto the vision board! So watch this space!

Of course it’s not been always easy – Things have also been stressful, difficult and exhausting through July, much to do with fatigue of life in a pandemic, quasi-lockdown, trying to work and family stresses – I even had a car accident and an argument with Just Eat about a cake that was not left at my doorstep! I’ve shared much of these and had some lovely support and fierce compassion directed at me, and that others related. #cakegate even sent me viral on LinkedIn!

A big lesson for me has been Fierce & Compassionate Boundaries. I ended a relationship with a community member who overstepped boundaries because she disagreed with a viewpoint I held. I know I put myself out there online so I understand people will disagree and we even have these fierce conversations to explore our views and healthily challenge each other out of group think – yet this particular I asked my membership community to sign up to fierce and compassionate boundaries so I can keep a genuinely safe space and they were ALL so supportive. We’ve all built deep connections and it was hard to lose someone who I valued yet this was what needed a big lesson for me.

Being an empath online has taken its toll in July 2020 with much more negativity and divisions being apparent and I am also putting in new fierce boundaries to allow me to still amplify my voice and connect with the things that benefit me but minimise the downsides of social media.

In other news -I wrote a poem in two parts! I have been more active in blogging and doing videos. I’ve offered a scholarship for a space on the Fierce PM Mastermind Autumn round through The Business of Healthcare scholarship. I’ve been told I’m Fierce regularly – and I’ve loved hearing it 🙂

Just a few months ago, I would say that even though my passion and gift was empowering women to embody their fierceness. That didn’t mean I am fierce myself, though I aspire to be, and that helps me to take stretch opportunities. I’ve told you about the pesky imposter syndrome before – but heck, I’m owning that fierceness now. Yes I am fierce! If you want more fierceness then sign up to my mailing list, and from August there will be more regular newsletters! There that is an August goal out already – plus I am working on something especially EXCITING!

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I was asked if I was a stay at home mum today.

Erm yes I suppose I am. Particularly as we’ve been in lockdown without any external support – I’ve been staying at home and I am a mum

I also have a business I’m running at the same time. I blooming hate the word mumpreneur though!

This is nothing against those who are stay at home mums, that is bloody hard job in my book, or those that are happily mumpreneurs. But personally that’s not what I choose. Though I suppose technically I am.

Work is a big part of my identity, and always has been. I’m ambitious.

I’m a mum and now that’s a big part of my identity and I do talk about my toddler alot. One of those mums! Ha. But its pretty all-consuming being a mum.

Being a mum, yeah it is pretty ace but also the fucking hardest job ever.

And oh housework and cooking – I feel like I am just not designed to ‘keep’ a house. I feel quite overwhelmed trying to do it all, cook, clean, tidy after a toddler – even to a bare minimum standard! I can enjoy parts of it at times with a podcast playing its pretty chill but the ‘space’ for that I struggle to find mostly. I’m probably on social media too much right?!

So I got a cleaner earlier this year for the first time. I have grown up with my mum doing it all and so has my husband (though he did help out at home) so it was actually a big decision outside our norm to get external help in. Ah it was the best thing ever. It wasn’t the magic bullet and I still wasn’t on top of things but it helped loads.

I also got a tonne of help from my mum and mum in law too! So much. From childcare to when they pop over they’ll start doing the dishes or something. And they would cook for us often too!

Lockdown has been particularly hard because all that *evaporated* along with nursery.

My husband was home more. He did do alot more, especially with our toddler. It was really hard at the beginning but their relationship has got much stronger. Over time, I could work more too. And I accepted times I had to work less. The house stuff we’ve muddled on. We’ve also argued along the way.

Some of that external help is coming back now and I’ve recently got some support in my business to take the pressure off 😅

But I’m still tired and behind and overwhelmed.

I recently read an article by Denise Duffield-Thomas (a successful entrepreneur and mum) – she shared she has a team of women who support her from cleaning, childminding to housekeeping so she is freed up to work on her business but also spend quality time with her kids, and ditch the mental load of keeping a house.

This sounds like the dream to me!

But til that dream is realised it’s hard, and it’s been harder in lockdown and it’s not done yet just because lockdown is easing!

For me personally, it actually means my husband is working out of the home more so that means another phase to adjust to. We’re also planning to get my three year-old back into nursery part time and potentially get some grandparents support again- but the risk balance is still a worry and it’s hard to know what to do for the best

Saying all of this, I know my lockdown story has been a bazillion times easier than other women because I have my own business where I have flexibility, and because my husband was often home and not working, and because I actually like being home (sometimes too much and it makes me a recluse).

A big part of my lockdown story has been showing up and being connected with other actual real life adult humans in my communities – the Fierce Project Management Tribe and I even created the Fierce Project Management Movement, our membership community, fuelled to create connection amidst the de-connection of the social distancing. It’s my superpower to hold safe spaces where we can have the real fierce talk and genuinely connect. I do much better holding space for those conversations then I do the housework- but the reality is THIS is also the fierce talk that needs to happen, because I’m not alone in this struggle. And I know so many have it harder right now.

It’s not just my story, one of the biggest challenges for gender equality especially in lockdown and post lockdown has been that the outsourcing of childcare and domestic responsibility suddenly evaporated. That’s led to more mental health challenges . It’s also led to women being sidelined, choosing to leave or reduce their work, or somehow struggling to do it all. It’s not the only root-cause to the backwards steps of gender inequality happening but its a big one.

This blog to say you are not alone. It’s fucking hard. You are amazing.

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