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Black History Month: “Why I want to see more diversity at leadership level”

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October is Black History Month in the United Kingdom. To mark this occasion, Association for Project Management (APM), spoke with members and professionals from the black community to hear their opinion on the current issues, opportunities, challenges and successes within the project profession.

In this article, Marsha Dennis ChPP explains the importance of promoting people from ethnic minority backgrounds into senior roles.

Marsha Dennis ChPP“I believe diversity and inclusion has improved since I joined the profession, but there is more that still needs to be done to ensure those from ethnic minority backgrounds have the same exposure and learning experience to hire more black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people into leadership roles,” says Marsha Dennis, a Chartered Project Professional (ChPP) and managing consultant with 15 years’ experience in the project profession.

APM’s latest Salary and Market Trends Survey shows that the ethnic makeup of the project profession is now broadly in line with the ethnic makeup of England as a whole, as recorded by the Office for National Statistics.

While the APM survey drew from a global audience, 91 per cent of respondents identified as UK-based. Taken as an indicative comparison, it can be inferred that positive progress is being made around representation in the project profession.

APM’s 2021 survey report stated that “the trend lines are moving in the right direction”, referring to the fact that project professionals from BAME backgrounds make up 15 per cent of the profession, compared with 12 per cent in the previous APM survey.


APM data (make-up of the profession by ethnicity)

ONS data (population by ethnic group for England




Black/Africa/Caribbean/Black British



Asian/Asian British



Mixed/multiple ethnicities



Other ethnic group



Prefer not to say




Commenting on the similarities, Marsha said: “I definitely see more representation. Projects and programmes are more diverse. Of course, that’s good to see, and we need to continue to think outside the box through the recruitment process to ensure those from the BAME are in leadership roles and are visible to encourage others to the profession.

Marsha explained that there is a need for the profession to represent the communities it serves, at all levels. This is particularly true, she feels, in light of government plans to make society as a whole more equal.

“One of the Government’s key strategies is ‘levelling up’,” she explained. “The project profession needs to match that ambition. Whether it’s infrastructure, local government programmes or anything else transformational, project managers are delivering it – and more. If we’re not representative of the people we’re trying to help, how can we tell if the outcomes are correct?

“In any industry, you’ll deal with a wide variety of customers. There’s a risk that service could be disproportionately focused on a particular group if an organisation’s staff doesn’t represent or reflect the end user (customers).

“Organisations with project and programme managers should invest in more training, mentoring and sponsorship to ensure those from a BAME background who want to get to leaderships roles are supported with clear goals, with the commitment to support them on their project management leadership journey.

“Organisations should first look at any structural and cultural barriers preventing those from a BAME background into senior roles, which maintains workplace inequalities. There is a need for a wider discussion for the project profession to ensure the right mechanisms are in place to promote the right culture and behaviours amongst project management professionals and to highlight issues, opportunities and promote organisations that have a track record of improving the makeup of project leaders in their organisation, in the same way we promote ChPP across the industry.

“Sometimes it can be easy to talk about why we don’t have more BAME leaders in projects without addressing the problem head-on. We need encourage organisations to listen to each other and share more widely so we can all see which ones are leading from the front. Once we have an open, transparent conversation, we can then identify advocates for change in the project management industry.”


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