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Women’s History Month: APM speaks to Rachel Jackson, Lead Planner at Anglo American

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March is Women’s History Month; an opportunity to talk about women’s contribution to history but also to reflect on issues relevant to women in the present.

APM has spoken to several leading female project professionals, including Rachel Jackson, planning lead for Anglo American Crop Nutrients, Woodsmith Project, and committee member of APM’s Women in Project Management SIG, about gender equality and progress being made in business and the project profession.  

Gender equality in business in general has made undeniable progress, seen at FTSE 100 level, with nearly 40% of board positions now held by women, compared with 12.5% 10 years ago. In 2023 FTSE 350 companies also met the target of 40% of women on boards - three years ahead of the 2025 deadline.

Progress is being made within the project management, with more women entering the profession, and many holding senior leadership positions previously unavailable to them, and companies are publicly championing the benefits of diversity and inclusion at every level. However, according to a recent APM survey, there is an approximate 70% male / 30% female gender split across the project profession in the UK.

Discussing these latest stats on gender equality, Rachel comments: “There has been a massive increase and visibility of women at board level which is fantastic. But what concerns me is the middle management. That's where I see a lot of women not getting to, or leaving the industry, because of various barriers in their way.

“Industry sectors are also varying. If you look at healthcare for example, you've got a lot more women working in the healthcare sector than you have in say, construction or mining [Rachel’s sector]. But then you've also got the leadership gap. So, while you might have more women in the healthcare sector, there's a larger gap between the number of women and the number of women in leadership. We only had the first female chief executive of the NHS in 2021, which is crazy when you stop and think about it.

The areas that we need to focus are not so much at board level anymore, it’s the leaky bucket, the talent pipeline for each level of seniority which seems to narrow significantly. It has been my experience, when I look back to when I started in project management, that there were probably a lot more women in the more junior levels, and as time has gone on, I find myself in meetings where I’m the only female - it's only a small number of women that get through past that senior level or into the senior leadership area of the business.

“I think that if you have a better balance at middle management that would make a huge difference to the leaky pipeline.”

Promotion and Leadership

LinkedIn data reveals just 25% of C-suite roles in the UK are held by women, while men are 21% more likely to be promoted to a leadership position than women.

Rachel comments: “You know what's the reason behind that? That's sort of suggesting that women have to go somewhere else to get promotion. And what's also evident is that more businesses than ever are being set up by women than men in the UK. So, I guess the question is that what are the businesses that require project managers doing to keep these women and the talent in?”

“Menopause is very challenging period for a lot of women, and for many who are in that mid senior level management, and having to deal with so many things emotionally and physically. Many companies are not dealing with that properly, although progress is being made, but it’s still a huge cause for many women leaving the workplace.”   

Ways of working and caring responsibilities

LinkedIn stats also show that women are 24% more likely to apply for a remote role. Rachel continues, “Since 2022, it’s evident that there has been a drop off in the number of remote roles available across the project profession and a definite shift back to the office. There may still be hybrid working, but I think there is more focus on being present and visible across business in general, and a move back to the traditional ways of working. Whether we move back entirely is a different thing, but we're definitely moving back, which is again a barrier if it’s women who are more likely to apply for remote roles, largely due to them have more responsibilities outside of work which they do, whether it be motherhood or other caring responsibilities.”

Rachel believes that advocating for men's rights is also important to help address the gender imbalance across the workplace, she says “Let's be honest, most of this isn't going to change unless men are on board.

And, as we know, men don't get the same opportunities if they have a child, compared to places like Sweden where it’s a given that fathers can go off for six months when a baby is born, they get involved and nobody bats an eye. That in itself creates a more balanced environment and culture, and making it more accessible for women to get to that mid- senior level management role and stay there. The Scandinavian countries have seen the benefit of having more dual parenting and gender equality in the workplace compared to here in the UK. Men feel they don't have to hold onto the reins so tight because they see the benefits of having a different work life balance.”

You may also be interested in:

Join our LinkedIn Live panel discussion, Future Focus: Women in Projects, Wednesday 20 March, 12:00–13:00 GMT

Women in projects: Levelling the playing field

How to manage menopause at work

Unequal pay is main barrier for women in project management, new study reveals



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