Written by Hayley Mountstevens at APM.

The growing importance of project-based work across industry today means an ever increasing need for talented project professionals. At APM, the chartered membership organisation for the project profession, we want to ensure that the barriers preventing individuals from having a rewarding career are recognised and challenged, and that projects worldwide are delivered successfully.

At APM, we work to support individual project professionals to ensure they have the potential to develop a highly rewarding career and with employers to help maximise the availability of expertise at all levels in the project management profession. We have long advocated for gender diversity across the profession and the promotion of women working in project management environments.

Although many companies are making positive steps publicly championing the benefits of diversity and inclusion at every level, and a growing number of women are in senior roles, the majority of project practitioners are still men – an approximate 70% male / 30% female gender split across the project profession in the UK.

To explore this further, APM recently invited a panel of female project professionals from organisations including the Department for Transport, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), Costain, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) and Heathrow Airport to discuss the issues impacting women in the profession including flexible working, career progression, gender parity, perceptions around discrimination and more. The result of the discussion which took place can be found in APM’s latest Women In Projects: Levelling the Playing Field report.

Positive trends are highlighted which have taken place as a result of changes in workplace culture, diversity and inclusion programs, gender-neutral hiring and evolving leadership styles, which have also created a more supportive environment for women. The landscape is moving alongside wider societal changes, reflecting groundbreaking shifts in attitudes.

A rise in flexible hours, remote working, the four-day week and job sharing is also helping overcome barriers that have disproportionately affected women. For instance, caregivers are now better able to provide for children or elderly relatives and, as a result, more talent in the profession is being retained.

Employers now have an opportunity to make their workplaces more attractive to prospective project employees, including women. This can present a competitive advantage at a time when organisations may find it difficult to attract applicants through higher salaries.

We know that gender diversity results in better outcomes, increased creativity and more engaged and motivated teams. More women are joining the profession, but the pressure must be on organisations and the people within them to create the conditions to retain them, and for them to thrive. APM’s Women In Projects: Levelling the Playing Field report outlines some essential steps that employers and project team leaders can do to support this including:

1. Inclusivity Programmes and Initiatives
Diversity and inclusion training should be provided to all employees, including managers and senior leaders. This will promote understanding of unconscious bias, micro-aggressions, and other issues that can contribute to discrimination and exclusion. At the same time, companies should implement diverse hiring practices to attract and retain employees from underrepresented groups. This can include establishing partnerships with organisations that serve diverse communities, using blind resume screening to reduce bias and establishing diversity targets for hiring. Equally, putting in place mentorship programmes to connect employees from underrepresented groups with experienced mentors will help with retention and foster a more collaborative workplace culture.

2. Flexibility at Every Stage
To ensure respect for people’s differences, flexibility is needed at every stage of the journey; from recruitment and performance, to retention, training and promotion. The working environment must be agile enough so that someone’s age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, race, culture, or religion, does not require asking for something different but being presented with options to thrive.

3. Design For Everyone
Organisations should design for everyone regardless of their abilities, disabilities, age, gender, ethnicity, or any other characteristic that could leave them vulnerable to discrimination. This means creating simple and intuitive products, services, and systems that foster participation, emphasise flexibility and require low physical effort. In short, adopt the principles of inclusive design whenever possible.

4. Showcase Diversity
Seeing diversity celebrated and acknowledged has many benefits. For example, by promoting your company as an inclusive employer will help to attract female talent. The importance of visually representing female role models cannot be overstated.

5. Transparency and Accountability
Organisations must be transparent about their diversity efforts and hold themselves accountable for progress. This includes tracking and reporting on diversity metrics such as the percentage of women in leadership positions, the gender pay gap, the percentage of women in technical roles, and the percentage of women being promoted. They must set goals for improvement. Conduct regular audits. Adapt training methods, and share their efforts with employees, stakeholders and the public.

Visit apm.org.uk for read the full report Women In Projects: Levelling the Playing Field
APM’s Women in Project Management conference takes place on Thursday 21st September, Visit apm.org.uk for details and to book your place.