The Gender Gap in Project Management Across the Globe

Demand for project management talent is intensifying across the globe. According to the Project Management Institute’s 2017 report, there will be a dramatic uptick in need for project talent across industries. Ignoring half the population represents a missed opportunity. As the demand for project management skyrockets, organizations should view women as a source of talent to fill this gap.

Gender Representation in Project Management

Equality in gender representation can make a positive impact on business performance. According to a 2017 report by McKinsey & Co, companies in the top quartile of gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry median.

Do the benefits of gender diversity apply to project management? There’s no clear answer to that question, but some argue that women leaders typically possess traits that befit project managers, including communication, risk management, emotional intelligence and a transformational leadership style.

In a PMI podcast on women in project leadership, Carrie Fletcher, the Senior Director of Health Information Management and Enterprise Project Management Office, says, “Women are very good at building relationships, and building relationships and trust in project management is one of the keys to being able to execute successful projects.”

Sarah Coleman, the Non-Executive Director for the Association for Project Management (APM), mentioned women’s soft skills as an advantage in a 2014 panel on women in project management hosted by APM.

“We’re seeing a greater emphasis on the softer skills and the research tells us that those are skill sets generally exhibited by women. It’s about more diversity: bringing in and utilizing different dynamics, experience and viewpoints.”

In that same discussion, Manon Bradley, Development Director for the Major Project Association, points out women’s decision-making skills. She says her “priority is to see major projects delivering better results, and if the evidence shows us that increasing diversity at decision making level can help us to achieve that, then I consider that to be a strategy worth attention.”

Perhaps when more countries reach gender parity, the research on the women in project management will be more comprehensive. In the meantime, according to the PMI’s Salary Survey 10th Edition, no country surveyed had a 50/50 gender split. The average split was 78% male and 22% female.

Here are the five countries with the largest difference in gender representation:

Largest Gender Gap in Project Management

These countries have the most gender equal representation:

Smallest Gender Gap in Project Management

Increasing Female Representation in Project Management

Even the countries with the smallest gap, such as the U.S., aren’t quite approaching equal gender representation. How can the female presence in project management grow?

Creating a more flexible work environment, one that encourages a work/life balance, is one strategy for increasing women in project management. As Bradley says, “All of the evidence suggests that achieving work/life balance improves productivity. Maybe we need to change the culture so that hard work and smart work aren’t seen as the same thing.”

Another strategy is a commitment to diversity from all levels of the company. Teri Okoro, the chair of APM’s Women in Project Management Specific Interest Group, who was also in the APM panel, says, “Diversity has got to be very much a top-down and not just a bottom-up issue. Business leaders have to come out and say that this is a core issue they want to address and it’s everyone’s responsibility. It needs to be given importance, appraised as part of people’s performance, and embedded within the culture. It has to be formally embraced and not just treated in isolation.”

Coleman suggests getting younger women engaged early on, especially as project management is broadening to different industries. Networking organizations and companies should use all of these strategies to increase their gender diversity.

Gender Salary Difference in Project Management

At large, the pay gap between men and women has remained stable over the past decade, according to an analysis by Pew Research Center. Pew found that women earned 82% of what men earned in 2017. How does this compare to project management? Across the countries surveyed by the PMI, on average, women earned 87% of what men earn, which is slightly above Pew’s number for all industries. However, this gap varies significantly by country. Here are the five countries with the biggest salary gap for men and women in project management:

Project Management Pay Gap

These countries have the smallest salary gap:

Project Management Pay Gap

Closing the Gender Pay Gap in Project Management

One of the reasons that there is still a widespread gender pay gap in project management is that while women are increasingly represented in project management, it is men who are still frequently at the top.

As Tegan Jones says in a panel on PM Network, “Male-dominated org charts tend to replicate themselves, which means women miss out on high-profile projects or get passed over to head up the project management office (PMO). It’s that organizational infrastructure that leads to lower wages.”

Organizations can try to amend this by taking a proactive stand on gender parity. Rob Van Duijl, PMO director, says in the PM Network’s panel that organizations should “set objectives for creating gender parity in the workforce, measure progress proactively and intervene when there are imbalances.”

Jones, who is an editor for the PM Network, says in the PMI podcast that part of the equal pay issue is coming from women themselves, as they are not negotiating for higher pay up front. They are undervaluing themselves. Women in project management should have a better understanding of “what they’re worth, looking at this research, seeing what the average salaries are and going in and saying this is what I would like to be paid for this job.”

*Editor’s note: Saudi Arabia provided no salary information for women, so it was not included in the pay gap analysis.

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