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2014 National Conference and 21st Anniversary of Women in Project Management

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The 2014 National Conference & 21st Anniversary of Women in Project Management was held at the Grand Connaught Rooms in London on 25 September 2014.  The Association for Project Managements Women in Project Management Specific interest Group is this year celebrating 21 years, having been established in 1993 by founder Jeanette Bilsborough.  

We hosted an afternoon and evening, inviting some extremely well known keynote speakers who didnt disappoint, and introducing less celebrated figures who have been working extensively in project management, and outside, with less profile but equally strong results. We were delighted to have their company and to be able to listen to and learn from their experiences and insights.  

Sarah Coleman, Fellow and Board member of the APM and Lead for the 2014 National Conference, was Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon events.  Catherine Roche, MAPM and WiPM SIG committee member, was Master of Ceremonies for the evening. 

We would like to thank the sponsors of the conference and 21st anniversary celebration, BAE Systems.


Jeanette Bilsborough, founder WiPM SIG

Teri Okoro and Jeanette Bilsborough  

Jeanette Bilsborough started our keynote speeches, describing how her early years shaped her vision around opportunities for work and how that led her to found WiPM.  Jeanette described her influences as her mother (the best business woman I have ever met who owned a toy and sweet shop) and being a girl with four brothers (I grew up with a great sense of equality").  In the 1970s, opportunities for women were limited and Jeanette became a secretary to a senior project manager, then moving into an assistant project manager role job.  At 31, she was managing multimillion pound construction projects. She described her sudden understanding when she attended a construction conference and was the only woman in the room.  

She said "Although I had PM skills coming out of my ears I didn't have networking. Being good at your job and being good at networking equals success. Being good at your job and not being good at networking equals limited success."  Her original vision for WiPM still holds true today, and she was delighted that the APM were so welcoming of her idea for WiPM.  She also paid tribute to the women who have been highly active in WiPM over the years.  

Baroness Susan Greenfield

Jeanette was followed by neuroscientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords Baroness Susan Greenfield.  Susan is especially active in STEM, has been awarded 30 Honorary Degrees from British and foreign universities, and heads a multi-disciplinary research group exploring neurodegenerative diseases such Alzheimers and Parkinsons. She is a Senior Research Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford and has currently co-founded a biotech company developing a novel approach to neurodegenerative disorders. In January 2014, she was included in the Debretts 500, "a recognition of the most influential and inspiring 500 people in Britain.

Susan talked us through the Seven Ages of Woman explaining how findings in neuroscience support gender equality, and how environment and experience are proving as important as genetic make up in human development.

A video of the talk can be found here.

Listening, Learning, Leading

Our two speakers presenting the very thought-provoking Listening, Learning, Leading sessions were senior female project managers both of whom lead complex projects with substantial goals and very complex stakeholder engagement issues.

In her role as Head of Games Workforce, Glasgow 2014 Limited, Valerie Mitchell led Glasgow 2014s Games Workforce Department and was responsible for the team of 15,000 volunteers as well as workforce planning for paid staff, contractors and volunteers, workforce services, recruitment, training and uniforms.    Dyan Foss, Global Managing Director Nuclear Sector at CH2M Hill, has a background of more than 23 years of program management experience in nuclear and hazardous waste cleanup across the USA and UK (Dounreay), which is something most of us would definitely not normally get to hear about. 

Neither presenter started out in life with their current careers in mind.  Valerie began her career as a teacher and Dyan as a geologist, but it was their early experiences that helped them arrive at their present roles. Valerie was able to combine her love of sport with work supporting the volunteering sector in delivering projects to help build the community. Dyan began as a geologist and learnt early that field trips werent for her and found her way into project management.  Both subsequently found themselves managing ever bigger projects with ever increasing complexity and identified that successful management and engagement of stakeholders were central to their work. 

For both, the skills required to lead their teams depended on listening.  Listening to the teams to establish and learn what motivated them to ensure they worked productively, and listening to and learning from the external stakeholders who were equally demanding.  Both made the strong point about the importance of listening to subject matter experts since leading a project does not automatically make you the authority.   Dyan recognised that the staff on an end-of-life nuclear de-commissioning project were the people who could really make a valuable contribution due to their heritage knowledge; at the same time, these same staff were effectively working to make themselves redundant so motivation was a particular challenge.  Both projects depended on using what had been learned from previous similar projects such as LOCOGs experience of the Olympic Games in 2012 and CH2M Hills combined experience in de-commissioning.

Both talks were extremely well received.  Valerie and Dyan were upfront and honest about their experiences, and in their approaches.  They shared what had worked for them, and equally their own learning processes, to enable them to become such strong leaders.

Videos from both talks can be found here.

Developing your career

Susan Heaton-Wright, founder of Executive Voice, led a session on Speaking to be Noticed.  Susans background is as an opera singer (and rower) and once or twice in her presentation, Susan gave full rein to her amazing voice by bursting into song.  Key take-aways from the session were to present yourself so that others see your potential (we do seem to be our own worst enemies at times!),  always aim to have the ding dong effect with your work and presence alike.  And to remember, your Diva(o) feet: they centre you, your voice and define your presence!

The second session was a double act by Manon Bradley, Major Projects Association, and Dr Jacquie Drake, founder of  Manon shared with us the evolution of The Portrait Club, a group that explores the realities of diversity and gender issues in project management; after all if there is established evidence that points towards diverse boards make better decisions, surely the same should be within project teams?  The Clubs aim, in line with that of WiPM, is not about quotas or feminism but about how can we collectively improve project success to strive towards a world in which all projects succeed.



Jacquie presented an array of statistics focussing on career progression in project management and how it could lead to the C-suite.  Then we broke into groups to discuss major topics focused on how we could each develop our project management careers including barriers (perceived or real) and how we could individually and collectively overcome them.

Following the discussion, all of the results were openly discussed with all delegates and Vanessa Randle captured and illustrated an amazing pictorial view of the outcomes of the Developing Your Career road to success.  We dont know how you do this, Vanessa, but were delighted you do it so well!


You can download Vanessa's graphic as shown above here.

What impressed us most was recognizing that we share so many common beliefs or disbeliefs about ourselves and our own capabilities.  Developing more pride and confidence in what we do, and supporting the next generation of project managers, would contribute more publically to a world in which all projects succeed.

Dame Stephanie Shirley

Dame Stephanie Shirley  
Dame Stephanie Shirley  

Dame Stephanie Shirley was the final keynote speaker of the afternoon. She shared her experiences and tactics as a pioneering business woman in the 1970s in IT when she set up FI Group.  It was astonishing to learn that she introduced early innovations such as employing women to work part-time, in their own homes, as software programmers that led to the development of software for Concordes black box.  This was at a time when she had to alter her name to Steve to be able to set up meetings with prospective clients and to hide the fact she was female before walking through their door.

She was very honest about her lack of commercial awareness that led to errors in her businesss pricing model that nearly brought the company down and how it was rescued through thrift. FI Group, although ignored at the outset, went on to become a publically quoted company and was one of the early examples of a business sharing profit through an employee share scheme.  FI Group subsequently became a success and a key player in the software development sector, providing software for several prominent international projects.

Key takeaways here were personal resilience and the importance of understanding finance and financial control. 

A video of Dame Stephanie Shirley's talk can be found here.

Dr Teri Okoro

Teri, WiPM Chair, closed the afternoon by thanking all the presenters and talking about the variety of events WiPM is holding to celebrate the 21st Anniversary this year. 

Evening session

Vanessa Vallely  
Vanessa Vallely  

Once the afternoon sessions were over it was time to let our hair down. We were thrilled to have author, speaker and founder of Vanessa Vallely to lead a speed networking session. In a talk which strongly echoed Jeanette Bilsboroughs presentation earlier, Vanessa helped us understand how networking can support career development in a world where who you know is as valuable as what you know in terms of building support and opportunity.  In particular, Vanessa emphasised the importance of maintaining those connections once made, even if its just forwarding on a link to an I saw this and thought of you article of interest.

The day concluded with a well-deserved supper whilst enjoying our entertainment for the evening from The Funny Women Players. WiPM was delighted to be supporting this up and coming improvisation group who presented their own hilarious take on our experiences of project management, providing a fitting if unconventional, close to our 2014 conference.

Both the afternoon and evening were sold out and attracted a lot of very favourable feedback.  Our challenge is now to make the 2015 National Conference better and bigger, and also to attract more of our male colleagues. We look forward to welcoming you at the 2015 National Conference of Women in Project Management on 24th September 2015, and you can find further information about the event on the APM website.

Particular thanks must go, as ever, to Anna Grabham and David West for their incredible patience and support.

Kind regards

Sarah Coleman, Teri Okoro, Catherine Roche, Monica Sasso, Maura Launchbury, Alexa Briggs and Anita Suji


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