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Why Project Managers Should Put Diversity and Inclusion in Pole Position

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The Branch was delighted to have worked with the Women in Project Management, WiPM) SIG to organise this event to celebrate International Women’s Day on the 12th March in Bristol.

Our speaker, Ella Barrington, has had an interesting and diverse career, starting out as an engineer specialising in motorsport engine design, systems and controls. She was attracted to motorsport through her Father, who was a successful amateur racing driver, but realised at a young age that she did not want to race. Ella is passionate about promoting STEM subjects to young people, and especially to girls. She views herself a STEMinist.

Ella outlined her background and career which has included an MSc in Racing Engine Design from Oxford Brookes University, however when she graduated there were no jobs in motorsport, so she worked for a solar panel company. She was then head hunted by sportscar team United Autosports to work for them at the weekend supporting their racing team with systems and controls, and by a specialist component manufacturer during the week to run their technical sales for the UK. She realised that she was very good at organising and project management. She then ran a motorsport simulation company where her PM skills were able to put organisation systems in place where they were somewhat lacking! She started her own company 4 years ago, providing PM skills for motorsport and engineering organisations.

Ella described some of the working conditions in the race industry, which are certainly not glamorous and can be very sexist. Only about 2% of engineers are women in the industry.

She realised that the difference she made was not in engines and controls, but through communication and getting things done: project management. She was reassured that PM was a real job when she had a chat at an APM exhibition stand.

Ella then discussed her views of diversity and inclusion. Diversity is different people working together, but in itself is very diverse.

Gender diversity is probably the most recognised, and is often used as a tag to start discussions around the wider diversity issues. It is not just about male and female, but also about wider gender identities.

Age diversity: She had a mentor who was very generous teaching her practical skills from a wealth of experience, but she noted that as he was often ignored as being ‘too old’.

Ethnic diversity: Physical, social and cultural qualities. This is very poor in motor racing - Lewis Hamilton is the main exception.

Situational diversity: People have different family, domestic and social situations. Flexible working can help with outside work commitments. It isn’t just for Mum!

Religious diversity: Can impact ethical values, social norms, working patterns and even clothing. With globalisation, teams often include many types of belief and have to adapt to different countries cultures when they race.

Orientational diversity: The culture in motorsport does not help with different sexual and other orientations. A driving coach that she knew felt he had to leave the sport when he came out as gay after 25 years.

Neurodiversity: Can include a broad range of conditions like dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger's syndrome and autistic spectrum disorders. These can often also provide real strengths which are valued by employers.

Financial diversity: Varying income and wealth can offer opportunities for some and barriers for others. Motor racing is a rich person’s sport.

Educational diversity: Graduate, non-graduate, apprenticeships, all have different strengths and weakness to add to a team.

Why should you care about Diversity?

Soichiro Honda: ‘If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don't particularly like’.

Evidence indicates that diversity in a team helps avoid group think and lead to better problem solving and decision making 87% of the time. Also, to half the meetings needed to make a decision. At board level, having a woman can increase an organisations performance, and having a diverse board can significantly increase return on equity.

If diversity is about getting there, inclusion is about how you feel when you get there. So, how can you feel people feel welcome?

Access all areas: Wheelchair friendly places, toilets for all genders, ramps, lifts, adapted computer screens for visual impairment, audio induction loops, etc.

Working clothes: Make sure they are in different sizes!

Mind your language: Use gender neutral when appropriate, be careful around job adverts and recruitment.

Picture this: Use a variety of images of people – show diversity in action.

On-line accessibility: Design websites carefully to help disabled people use them effectively.

Quiet Spaces: Include in workplace design for religious or neurodiverse people.

Food for thought: Insure that religious and ethical preferences are catered for.

Drink: Not everybody wants to drink alcohol – respect this choice.

Above all value people, support them with mentoring, an induction buddy system, and be kind.

Diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Investing in a diverse team pays dividends in better problem solving, decision making and improves the bottom line.

As usual the slides are on APM Slideshare.

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chair



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