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Women in project management – Interview with Deanne Earle and Alexia Nalewaik

glass breakers Alexia and DeannePlease introduce yourself and your relationship with The Glass Breakers


I’m Deanne Earle, a Project Consultant specializing in delivering business technology projects and Director of Unlike Before Ltd As a founding member I was attracted to The Glass Breakers because virtual networks are increasingly important, we have common ground and are building a basis for professional interaction.


I am Alexia Nalewaik, Principal Consultant of QS Requin Corporation. My specialties are project performance review, risk management, and audit; my profession is that of quantity surveying & cost engineering. As a founding member of The GlassBreakers, I am happy to support a vibrant community of intelligent, engaging, professional women in this STEM field.

As a member of The Glass Breakers what advice do you have for women in project management / leadership?


Don’t be scared – you won’t know until you ask or you try.

Think about and understand the wider picture of your project and encourage the team you’re working with to do the same. Everyone has a job to do and when people understand where and how their piece fits into the whole they gain a different perspective and it adds greater meaning to their contribution.

Be visible, believe your contribution counts, speak up, make yourself heard, put yourself forward, and, as Sheryl Sandberg says, sit at the table. Ask for what you need and get involved in different activities to see what you do and don’t like. Read, read a lot: books, articles, whitepapers, industry publications and recreational material. Write your own materials and publish it on your own or others blogs or websites. Attend conferences and if you’re interested get involved in presenting.

Think about your own work and career. Where do you want to go? What do you want to achieve? Develop yourself in your organisation and as an individual.

The best piece of business advice I ever received was from the Chairman of a company I used to work for. We had a great rapport and one day he said to me “Deanne, I know you don’t ‘do’ politics and that’s OK but every now and again raise your head up to observe what’s going on around you. You don’t have to participate but you’ll stay informed and be better able to adjust what you’re doing.” It has served me well.


The best piece of advice I ever received was from the corporate lawyer at the first company where I held a full-time position. One day, out of the blue, he said, “If you want to succeed, get as many letters after your name as you can.” At the time, I couldn’t begin to imagine where I would get a certification, or what I would get one in. Five years later, I received my first professional certification (in project controls, my area of expertise) and others followed soon after. Being certified, attending conferences, publishing technical papers, and serving professional associations have contributed greatly to my career and visibility.

Find your niche. It might not happen right away; the path to success is hardly ever a straight line. In fact, several years ago, I mapped the career progression of a few dozen people in my industry. It was fascinating – no two paths were the same.

Other advice, very briefly …

  • Manage your online persona and image carefully
  • Take risks. My most interesting jobs started with a leap of faith.

What positive aspects can women in particular take from and give back to project management / leadership?


Being organised and having heightened awareness. Those leading projects know what’s happening now and what’s coming up in the future. Role models in the profession show others how to lead and manage but most importantly how to recognise when more of one than the other is needed. There are many opportunities to learn and make a difference and feedback is important to that learning process. Positive feedback and encouragement is important however constructive feedback is imperative. It’s through constructive feedback that we really learn and are inspired to improve.


My inspiration is found in making a difference. Being able to see proof that I have improved the organisation, helped the project or program succeed, taught others. Doing what I love enables me to give fully to project management & leadership.

I don’t categorize ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ skills as being inherently male or female. There are elements that are necessary in project management, regardless of gender, such as being organised, communicating clearly, focusing on the end result, and understanding stakeholders.

What differentiates The Glass Breakers from other networking groups and how do members and their peers benefit from it?


Like many other Stiletto Networks, The Glass Breakers is a group that’s focused on more than just meeting more people, swapping business cards and expanding a non-productive contact list. It’s a powerfully strong mastermind group where everyone’s ready and willing to make an introduction, answer questions, share a laugh and cheer you on. The Glass Breakers is a diverse group of professionals serious about collaboration and contributing to each other as colleagues, peers and friends. It’s like mentoring on steroids.


I love that I can reach out, at any time, to members of the group when I have a question. For example, I recently wanted to craft a news article, but did not know what news outlet might be interested in printing it. Within minutes, I had leads provided by members of the Glass Breakers network. We share stories; it seems there is always an ear or two available to listen and, in doing so, we learn from each other. We definitely have a good laugh. The people in the network are diverse; there are many different aspects of project management, so within our group there is a lot of advice available on a number of topics.

How can role models from other industries help with personal and professional development of project leaders?


They can have an enormous impact both positive and negative so watch, listen and learn and make conscious decisions about those you do not want to be like. Here are some women I admire - Christine Lagarde, MD of the IMF; Helen Clark, first female Prime Minister of NZ; Kate Sheppard, leading light of the suffrage movement in NZ (in 1893 NZ became the first country in the world to grant women the vote); Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK (love or hate her she wasn’t afraid to take tough unpopular decisions to move her country forward, decisions that her fellow male politicians seemed unwilling to address).

I also have huge admiration for the current Pope. He’s holding people to account, making changes, pointing out the elephants in the room and dealing with them. He’s not afraid to speak his mind or have an alternate opinion. He’s reminding the church, those in it and those who follow it what their ‘Why’ is. That is a role model material any can learn from.


There is a big difference between mentors, champions, and role models. Everywhere, I see “mentoring” being implemented in companies and professional associations. Mentors can give advice, share their experiences, and be a good listener. But an article last year rang true for me, when it said that (at a certain point in their career) women don’t need mentors. They need champions. A champion is someone who has the ability to actively contribute to a woman’s advancement, to recommend a woman for promotion or recognition, instead of playing the more passive role of the mentor.

Role models: completely different animal. I look to certain people for inspiration, even though they aren’t in my industry at all. I’ll echo Deanne’s comments on the current Pope; just, wow. I admire Margaret Thatcher and her ground-breaking career. Joan of Arc was my primary role model when growing up. These days, I find myself looking to women my own age and younger – CEOs, Hollywood actresses, artists, athletes. Today’s women in media represent such strength both on and off screen, and are helping change our world by helping us to visualise it and forming foundations to support it. Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Maria Shriver, and Emma Watson come to mind. They are amazing examples of self-acceptance, intelligence, wit, and determination. And the men who write parts for strong, intelligent, funny women – I would be remiss if I failed to mention my utmost respect for Joss Whedon.

How else can women raise their profiles in their roles and industry?


Strike up conversations with people. Opportunities are everywhere and you never know what might come out of a casual conversation. Actively participate in groups and activities outside your daily routine. If one group doesn’t work for you try another. Attend conferences and consider further education or certification. On the job performance and project success speaks volumes. Ask those you’ve worked with for testimonials as these give others insight into your capabilities and builds your profile. Start a blog and write regularly. Write some articles for other websites or share your thoughts and opinions as comments on others. Get involved in Social Media. Twitter has a very active project management group under the hashtag #pmchat (project management chat) and #pmot (project managers on twitter). Have an excellent head and shoulder picture of yourself. It doesn’t have to be taken by a professional so long as it represents you in a professional way.


Take a role in the professional institution of your choice. You’ll probably start on a committee, then work your way up. By doing this, you will actually add to your skillsets: you will network, gain management and leadership experience, become comfortable fixing problems, and learn to communicate well. I was fortunate that I held positions in student and “younger member” committees early in my career, and gained such skills long before I actually needed them in professional practice.

Never stop learning. I ended up with a late-in-life PhD because I came across I problem I was passionate about and wanted to solve. The corollary is that you must share your knowledge. Don’t keep it to yourself, don’t hoard it. Give advice to others. Every question asked is a teaching opportunity. People will not just appreciate it; you will become known as a go-to person for your expertise and approachability.

Create your professional profile on LinkedIn, keep it up to date, and relentlessly self-promote. Ask for recommendations on LinkedIn, add links to articles or blogs you have written, and highlight awards.

Deanne’s answer reminds me that I am desperately in need of a new headshot. 

Is there any industry sector more likely to be male dominated? How, in your experience has this helped shape the approach or leadership style of your female peers and colleagues?


My work is focused on the business end of technology projects. While it’s fairly male dominated it’s less so now than say 20 years ago. Women have been steadily rising through organisation hierarchies and females are being actively encouraged to study technology after school. Construction, the Oil industry, Motor Racing and Heavy Industries such as mining, steel and heavy machinery are still likely to be predominantly male. That said women are forever pushing forward into sectors they would have been redirected or actively discouraged from doing a generation ago.

On reflection my approach and leadership style has been shaped by the people I work with rather than by a particular industry. Over the past 25+ years I’ve worked with a diverse range of people across many different countries and cultures. It’s this experience that has a profound effect on how you work with others. One of the biggest lessons anyone can learn very early on in their working life is that one approach or style of leadership and management does not fit all. We must constantly adapt and adjust to situations and people. I’ve learned this myself and see it successfully applied on a daily basis by my peers and colleagues.


The majority of my work is on construction projects and mega-programs. It is definitely male-dominated. The keys to success, for me, have been continuous learning, knowledge, and experience. Rigorous documentation, and data, too. I am reminded of a life lesson from my parents: “People lie. Numbers don’t.” That has never failed me.

Women are making incredible strides in my particular field of quantity surveying and project controls. It just so happens that this year represents a historic and unprecedented convergence of female top leadership for our professional institutions. Incumbent and incoming female chairs & presidents: Chair of PAQS (Asia-Pacific), President-elect of AACE (USA), Incoming chair of ICEC (global), President of RICS (UK), President of IQSSL (Sri Lanka), President of CECA (China), Chair and Founder of PICQS (Philippines), Chair of FDP (Denmark) and Executive President of RACE (Romania). Our world is evolving, and women have a definite place in it.

What do you have in the hopper or as forthcoming projects?


The Unlike Before eBulletin for Q2 was just published last week. It’s easy to register for all future issues by visiting Subscribers’ details are added to the subscriber list and all new subscribers receive a special bonus giveaway.

Recent publications include two (2) eBooks – 15 Powerful Leadership Ideas, Insights and DNA Changers, and Project Leadership – Lessons from 40 PPM Experts. In the pipeline is a joint venture with a colleague in Canada on an interactive skills builder tool, along with some early collaboration with a colleague in NZ on a presentation for a conference in London next year. In parallel I continue to help my clients and their organisations ‘see the light’ to derive greater business value from more strategically aligned and business relevant technology projects.


As always, I have a number of papers completed and in progress for both conferences and journals. Upcoming conferences include IPMA in Rotterdam and ICEC / AICE in Milan, and I am now starting to plan for 2015. I will become Chair of the International Cost Engineering Council this October. Billable work always takes priority over research, publications, and professional association service … but I do need to finish writing my first book ( I will be publishing my newly developed project performance audit model at the IPMA conference; it fills a gap in both research and practice, and I look forward to elaborating on it in additional publications and presentations.

How can our readers contact you?


Readers can contact me via the Website (, follow me on Twitter (@UnlikeBefore), and connect with me on LinkedIn ( or Google+ (\+DeanneEarle)


Readers can follow me on Twitter (@ruffh2o), and connect with me on LinkedIn (

Dr. Alexia Nalewaik is Principal Consultant of QS Requin Corporation. She is a project controls director and quantity surveyor with over 20 years of risk management, owner representation, and cost management experience. Her technical research, consulting work, and publications include project audit, cost management, risk assessment, and performance improvement for capital projects. Alexia is incoming Chair of the International Cost Engineering Council, serves on the Governing Board for RICS Americas, and is Inter-organization Chair of AACE International. She is a Fellow of all three organizations.

Deanne Earle is Director of Unlike Before Ltd, a founding member of The Glass Breakers global women’s network, a published author, and sought after international consultant and expert in the areas of project delivery, management, change and leadership.Deanne challenges the DNA of a company’s leadership where necessary to achieve greater business value from technology projects. You can contact Deanne and find out more about Unlike Before through the Website, connect with her on LinkedIn or Google+, and follow her on Twitter.

More in the series

Click here to read Women in project management – Interview with the founder of The Glass Breakers women’s network

Click here to read Women in project management – from a recruitment perspective

Click here to read Women in project management – representing the voice of women

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