We spoke to 6 of the leading female project management professionals to find out their best piece of advice for women working, or aspiring to work, in project management.

Women currently make up 25% of our membership, which has increased slightly from 22% in 2020. This seems to be about the norm amongst the project management profession globally, but that doesn’t mean we should accept it. It’s crucial to address this gender imbalance through challenging unconscious biases and stereotypes, as well as promoting diversity and inclusion.

Maria Dalla-Fontana MAIPM, Manager – Space, Science and Technology for the Tasmanian Department of State Growth and AIPM Tasmania Chapter President suggests to “Demand a flexible workplace for all employees, which will increase the supply chain of expertise within the organisation.”

Fortunately, since the COVID pandemic, flexibility and days working from home have become more common to improve work-life balance. This is key for women who are juggling caregiving responsibilities, childcare or school drop off and picks up, and outside sport or other activities.

“Balancing the needs of my family with the demands of professional life is an artform.

It’s important to shape the culture that you want to work in – you are more influential than you probably think and even gradual pressure in the right direction can be incredibly powerful. Seek out opportunities to be flexible.”

Kestrel Stone FAIPM
Chief Executive Officer of Elemental Projects

Elena Zagorenko FAIPM CPPE, Chair of the AIPM Board, makes another interesting point that, “As we see project management transitioning into project leadership, females are strategically positioned to influx different mindsets, alternative viewpoints, and advanced soft skills into the traditionally male-dominated industries.

As the percentage of the female project leaders is growing at all levels year-on-year, we are starting to see a shift across the industry, with more flexible ways of working being considered for all of those in the profession, whilst achieving the same strong performance outcomes. Despite these very positive trends, there is still more to be done to advocate for and support both aspiring young female project professionals and those returning into the project cohort after career breaks, by creating inclusive and flexible environments where everyone can thrive.”

“Project managers are now faced with being change managers, futurists, as well as managing accelerating projects due to budget constraints. Having solid competency-based training will help any project professional ensure that they are clear about roles and responsibilities when setting up a project as more and more gets thrown at them.”

Connie Beck FAIPM CPPD
AIPM Board Director

Jane Hatton MAIPM, Program Director for the Department of Defence and AIPM ACT Chapter President, says “As much as it pains me to say this in 2023, I think the greatest challenge facing women is unconscious bias – cognitive, personal and confirmation. Why does society continue to criticise the way women dress? Do men get called frumpy? Why are assertive statements from women perceived as shouting or being angry?” Maria Dalla-Fontana MAIPM comments on another unfair bias. “Women are still paid less compared to their male counterparts.”

Mentoring is something that was raised by many of the women. Fiona MacTavish MAIPM CPPP, AIPM NSW Chapter President and Head of Portfolio Management at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said “It’s really important to have women who are mentoring women to help them identify with the challenges they’re having, and maybe learn from some of the harsh lessons their mentors have had over the years.”

Jane Hatton MAIPM sees great importance in building relationships, as well as acting with authority and confidence, and being authentic. “Remind yourself of your brilliance; own your weaknesses so you can own how to strengthen them, and see merit in failure – it’s a great opportunity to learn, think and regroup.”

We asked our esteemed panel of female project management professionals for their best piece of advice for their fellow women project management peers:

  1. Be ambitious in your goal setting and ensure you build up your confidence to put your career aspirations forward. By doing so, you will be able to build a strong support network of likeminded project professionals and to secure the right advocates to help you overcome the challenges you might face. Elena Zagorenko FAIPM CPPE
  2. Volunteer, if you can, to raise your brand, and apply for roles even if you are unsure you will be successful, to raise your profile. Take on extra competency-based certification to assist you to be recognised in your industry. Connie Beck FAIPM CPPD
  3. Find a great mentor or two to grow your confidence and insight. Expand your network connections to access learning opportunities and workplace support to undertake formal accreditation and gain professional certification. Maria Dalla-Fontana MAIPM
  4. Exhibit strong interpersonal skills, especially on complex projects. Apply a systems-thinking view which supports a better understanding of how benefits are seeded during a project and realised after it by the sponsor/program manager, be methodology agnostic, and embrace various ‘ways of working’, such as Agile. Kestrel Stone FAIPM
  5. It’s really important to have a great mentor to help you build strong networks so that you have the equality of opportunity in getting jobs that may not be advertised in the traditional way and be able to move into more senior roles. Fiona MacTavish MAIPM CPPP
  6. Live by Don Miguel Ruiz’s [The] Four Agreements:
    • a. Be impeccable with your word
    • b. Don’t take anything personally – nothing other people do is because of you; it is because of themselves. ‘Bless’ their actions and ‘give it away to the universe’ so you don’t harbour bitterness or resentment
    • c. Don’t make assumptions – communicate, consider issues from their perspective, be curious and have the courage to ask questions
    • d. Always do your best. Jane Hatton MAIPM

You don’t need to look any further than these women to see that women are breaking barriers and having impactful careers in project management. As discovered in our recent report with KPMG, The state of project management in Australia 2022, 73% of project professionals said their projects experienced staff shortages, so there is more opportunity than ever.

Interestingly, multiple studies have shown that women make excellent project managers due to their ability to assess risk and guide their actions and decisions accordingly, as well as their skills in scheduling, budgeting, and communicating.

It’s clear that women can be valuable assets in the project management profession, and with ambition, hard work, and positivity, you can achieve great things and make a big impact through projects you manage.