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Where are the women in major projects leadership?

This report asks where the women are in major project leadership and examines the success of gender balance initiatives that are being adopted across the sector. The aim for this research was to bring together different schools of thought on the topic of gender and leadership, applying it to the context of project management and megaproject leadership in the UK. The report reviews the status gender balance in UK megaprojects and brings in ideas from sociology, psychology, gender theory and leadership models. In doing so, the authors present the argument for adopting a different approach to gender balance that goes beyond fixing the numbers. They argue that gender balance should be part of the organisation’s corporate social responsibility, as UK major projects have a remit to improve societal transformation. Gender balance initiatives should do more than ‘fix women’ for leadership roles, but also work to assess and revise workplace culture.

Who is the intended audience?

This research will be of value to project managers, HR professionals, recruitment managers, researchers and senior leaders who support diversity in the project profession. It is intended to be applicable for both researchers and practitioners who are responsible for or interested in establishing gender balance across any organization.

Why is the research important?

This research is important because it tries to bring in the perspective of academic research into the field of people and workforce management when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion. Too often, our solution to issue of imbalanced representation is to focus on ‘fixing women’ to lead – rather than fixing the institutional biases and practices that exclude them in the first place. By bridging the gap between research and practice, this report outlines the case for a new approach to gender balance that reframes some of the challenges to be more holistic, nuanced and sustainable.

What did we discover

In our assessment of the current state of play around gender balance in major projects, we have found that in some areas (such as the public sector) the representation of women has improved whilst in other areas (such as the STEM pipeline) the numbers have barely increased at all. We also found there to be replication and repetition on the types of solutions currently being pursued by major projects – and that they still focus more on training and development of a small group of future leaders than on issues of leadership culture or recruitment practice. We also found that the drive towards ‘gender balance’ can have a negative impact in disguising more embedded gendered inequalities – for instance the gender pay gap, the cost of childcare forcing women to take lower paid or part time roles, or the streamlining of women into ‘feminine’ professions and men into ‘masculine’ professions.

What were the main challenges?

The field of major projects is a complex picture and bringing together data from across different sectors has proved to be a mammoth task. There are lots of good initiatives that are beginning to tackle the issue of benchmarking data and collaborative learning, but these are still emerging. It is also always a challenge to discuss theories and academic research in a way that is applicable to the realities of managers and leaders when it comes to questions of gender and social equality. We hope that we have been successful in our attempts to do so!

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