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The value of diversity in project management

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A big message from the APM Women in Project Management (WiPM) Conference 2019 was the importance of diversity in project management. Beyond public perceptions, a truly diverse team can deliver better results, tap into a deeper talent pool and bring fresh perspectives to everything we do.

There are still some hurdles to delivering more diversity in project management, though things are moving in the right direction. We asked delegates at the WiPM conference about their own experiences, and the value of diversity.

Christina De Poitier, independent consultant

“I’ve worked as a project manager in the construction industry. While diversity can be looked at in different ways, gender diversity can be skewed in one direction within the sector. I was often working abroad, so there was a diverse mix of nationalities working on my projects at the time.

“As the only woman in the office, people would sometimes assume I was the secretary. You’re often fighting stereotypes as well as trying to do your job, learn the industry and learn more. There are so many things you’re pushing against instead of growing in your profession. It’s good to be able to share those experiences with others, and how you’ve overcome it.

“I found Paul Erricker's insights in terms of diversity in the way you think absolutely fascinating. People are often really aware of diversity in terms of looking different, but what you don’t realise is that you’re all thinking differently. The penny really dropped in terms of why certain things might work well and why others don’t. It’s important to understand those differences, rather than outside perceptions. We need to celebrate the fact that we’re all different and make the most of it.”

Jenny Jackson, Tate Enterprises

“Different people bring different ideas to the table because of their backgrounds. It’s useful to have different people with experiences working together. My industry is retail. We have two clients – the shop itself and the customers. If you’re working in a world where the products are created by one type of person, then they’re only going to serve one type of person. So having a more diverse group of people on projects means that your end product will serve a diverse audience.

“More specifically, I work in retail within the arts, and there are two barriers there. One is that the arts in general is not something that many people have access to due to their backgrounds and they don’t feel able to apply for jobs in the sector. Secondly, in order for customers to come into our shop spaces, they have to be already interested in the gallery, so that can limit diversity.”

LM (full name withheld), project manager in the finance sector

“Finance can be quite traditional and the workforce tends to be older, particularly in areas such as financial planning. It can be quite demotivating feeling like the youngest person there. I’m considering moving into a more fast-paced environment.

“I’m very good at bringing myself to work every day and channelling my way of working and my career goals. I want to learn from older members of the team, but there’s often a perception that as a younger member of the team, you’re not lost, that you do know what you’re doing. It can be hard to get them on board with your ideas, particularly when you want them to collaborate with and guide you.

“Diversity brings different mindsets and skills being brought to the table. It exposes people to different perspectives, and that way people can grow and empower each other.”

The WiPM conference taught delegates that the true value of diversity is internal, rather than what we can see. It brings new cognitive approaches to projects that can help them to be more efficient, appeal to a wider audience, and solve problems more effectively. We need to recognise the differences already present in our teams, approach them positively, and make the most of them. Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Brought to you by Project journal.

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