Mar 8, 2019

Hey, Guys ... Listen Up

Posted by Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin | 0 Comments

A gender-balanced workforce is good for business.

In honor of International Women's Day, I decided to look into something that's usually outside the scope of PM Solutions' research. One of the questions we never ask in our research studies is gender. After all, we are studying the effectiveness of practices, not the people who perform them. Even when we surveyed project managers and executives about Project Manager Skills in 2015, we did not ask this question. So it was it some surprise that when, some years ago, I was looking through photos of current and previous PMO of the Year leaders, I realized that the lion's share of them were women. Poking around, I found a link (no longer viable at this writing) to an Oxford University study that found, for IT projects of 65 weeks mean duration, looking at 200 project managers in six Ohio PMI chapters, the women PMs had fewer abandoned projects and significantly outperformed men on achievement of budget and schedule targets.

I had some fun with this fact in some presentations I did at the time, for organizations as diverse as a software engineers conference in Tennessee, a meeting of nuclear engineers in Las Vegas, and the PMI conference in Minas Gerais, Brazil. The women in the audience laughed and nodded. Some of the men got mad. Others looked gobsmacked. To be fair, I was not suggesting that "women make more effective project managers" because I don't subscribe to the view that biology is destiny. My point was more subtle ... and far more actionable.

Here it is: Good listeners make effective project managers (and program managers, and PMO leaders, and CEOs). The importance of listening skills in management has been underscored time and time again, here, here and here, among other studies. And additonal studies have shown again and again that, in work settings, men are talking. A lot. (I'm sure my female readers, like those women in my presentation audiences, are now nodding. The experience of trying to get a word in edgewise at work is pretty much universal for us.) Growing up, girls are more likely to be told that it's good to listen, get along, follow the rules, and cooperate with others. Boys, on the other hand, find they are rewarded and praised for competitiveness, risk-taking, even boasting and posturing -- think end-zone after a touchdown.  Sometimes, in some circumstances, this behavior works for the best. But your average knowledge or service work setting can be derailed by it.

This isn't biology: this is culture. And culture can shift. When it shifts, according to a recent article in The Economist, it's good for business. One example cited was from BHP Billiton, a mining company in Australia, which has increased women's share of their workforce to 40% in recent years. More diverse teams have outperformed the average by about 15% on measures such as meeting production forecasts, sticking to timetables and cutting maintenance costs. The rate of injuries also fell.

In the recent Arras People project management survey (view the full survey here) a mostly UK-based pool of participants reported that while only 30% of them were female (up from 25% in past years). they were far less likely to be unemployed (22% vs. 78%) and more likely, if employed, to serve in strategic roles: of the portfolio managers in the study, 33% were women (vs. 67% men). And ... going back to my original story about the PMO leaders ... women comprised 57% of the PMO Directors in the study; men 43%.

The theme of this year's International Women's Day is "Balance for Better." Indeed. It will be great when the world catches up with us here at PM Solutions, and we can all stop even asking the question, Is half the population represented here? and just pick the human being who's best qualified for the job.

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